THE INTERNET! WOW! INCREDIBLE! GOLLY GEE WIZ!
Everyone who’s anyone knows that the advancement of digital technology, and more specifically the internet, has brought more significant changes to modern life than perhaps any other development. Developed nations now have entertainment, information, education, and much more right at the tips of their fingers! Without going into scads of detail on how digital networking is effecting us, I’d like to explore the ways online writing has changed the novel-writing process, especially for myself.
Now I may be a part of the millennial generation, but I’m definitely old-school. My parents were the why-are-you-inside-on-a-perfectly-nice-day type, and we didn’t even have a real TV in the house until I was probably eleven or twelve years old. That was about the time when we got a family PC, too, but it wasn’t even hooked up to the internet and the best it had to offer was a few games of Minesweeper and half an hour of MS Paint before running around in the back yard seemed far more fun. Because of this, my writing was almost exclusively done on–gasp!–pen and paper. Spiral notebooks upon spiral notebooks were jammed in every corner of my bedroom, each full of a different world. Back in those days, the only way someone could ever read my writing was to sneak a notebook off of me (something my brother loved to do to humiliate me). Very rarely did I ever willingly give my work to anyone to be read (see my post about pseudonyms).
Fast forward to high school, when Google Docs was just becoming popular. All of our writing for school projects was done online and then simply shared with the instructor. The obvious benefit of online storage was that you could no longer “forget” your essay “at home,” and similarly, you didn’t have to carry a whole bunch of notebooks around if you wanted to work on a writing project. Unfortunately, you needed a computer with internet to access anything you had written, and since I found that part to be challenging sometimes, I kept with my notebooks. In fact, my original method of first-draft revision was to simply type what I had written in my notebook onto a computer and make desired changes as I went along. As soon as my work was on a computer, I would share it with a cousin I was very close to and my then-girlfriend-now-wife. This made sharing very easy but the writing portion was still pretty slow.
My Junior year of high school was the first time I ever posted anything online. I took a creative writing class from whom I believe may be one of the best English teachers on the planet, and we were required to build a simple website to share our work on so the rest of the class could see it. I was extremely hesitant at first, but after two or three postings I began to find that people didn’t hate my writing or think it sucked. Sure, I wasn’t raised on any shoulders, but I didn’t want to be. Shortly after, a good friend of mine who had been writing fan-fiction and ironically cliche vampire stories told me about Fiction Press, and how she was getting real-time feedback from people who were finding her work. At this point in my life I was reading several books a month, writing a ton, and considering (although not hopefully) any sort of career where I could be paid for my writing. In my dreams I wanted to be a novelist, but kid from blue-collar families know that dreams are for the nighttime and you had to come up with something “practical” to do to support a future family. Still, I was curious about letting people who weren’t my closest friends read my writing, and so I began posting the story I had written for NaNoWriMo 2012 online. The whole thing got maybe 200-300 reads, but still. That was 200-300 more reads than I ever could have imagined. My writing process gradually began to change once again: I would write in my notebook, edit it into a Google Doc, and then copy/paste it onto Fiction Press. This method continued through my Senior year, when I wrote and posted the first five chapters of The Color of Darkness.
Then life happened.
Fast-forward once again to June of 2015. I had graduated high school a year previously and hadn’t done any writing for a full year (I was newly married and working all the time). I got my first desk job and found myself with more time than I could possibly imagine. One day I found an email from Fiction Press saying I had received a private message from a certain Coen Wonder praising my work and inviting me to join a new online writing community called Penana. I was skeptical at first; Fiction Press was so outdated and so dead, had someone really found my work after a whole year of being totally inactive? I mailed Coen back and politely thanked him for messaging me, and told him I would check out Penana even though I really didn’t plan on it. Something had piqued my interest, though, and I couldn’t resist typing the address into my browser just to check it out. What I found was incredible: an online writing community dedicated to young readers and writers that seemed to not only be alive, but thriving! It was so different for the dead echo chamber that I found on FP that I signed myself up an account immediately. I posted several things that I was working on and then, frankly, forgot about it. Several months later I checked my account for whatever reason and discovered that no one had read any of my stuff. This, of course, is predictable seeing as I wasn’t active in the community at all and had sort of expected to return and find my writing had magically gotten popular. Somewhat frustrated, I emailed Coen and expressed my desire to connect readers to my writing; he politely suggested I join some of the writing societies available on the site and meet some friends. To make a long story short, I heeded his advice and was wonderfully surprised to discover that not only did people discover my writing, but they actually enjoyed it. I had messages and comments asking me to continue my stories, and that alone was enough motivation to drive me to finish TCOD.
Now I have mentioned in several posts that I owe my success to Penana, and it’s true. In a broader sense, though, I owe my success to the internet for allowing me to connect my passion with people who seemed to be just as excited about it as I was. It was receiving the communal spirit of encouragement from so many people behind their keyboards that truly kept me going. To be quite frank, I’m not sure how writers in the past managed without the network of support and instant reader feedback. The craft is riddled with self-doubt and a feeling of general helplessness, especially when dealing with difficult subjects. Did I capture that emotion clearly enough? Is that character real enough? Am I being to pretentious? To wordy? Is my freaking grammar even correct? It was through Penana that I met Ben May, whom I owe an immeasurable gratitude for both helping me do my first edits and then introducing me to hybrid publishing and the man, Bruce Ditnes, who believed in my words enough to take a chance on them. Again, without the incredible connecting power of those ones and zeros traveling from computer to computer at the speed of light, none of this would have been possible.
Today, my writing process remains yet the same, though my audience has broadened to include Wattpad and Twitter (@inkblackknight). It seems like every day that I’m receiving messages thanking me for sharing my novel with them. While sometimes I feel like the praise is undeserved, I’m simply happy that we live in a time and age where information can be shared so readily and so widely. True, there’s nothing like holding a physical book in your hands, but it’s really nice to be able to reach so many different teens and talk about what my novel meant to them with the push of a few simple buttons. I do miss the days when creating a new world was as simple as finding a pen and a notebook, but I wouldn’t trade it for the feeling of accomplishment that’s been made possible by modern technology.
Maybe someday I can get back to notebooks, though. I would really, truly enjoy that.
Until next time!
THE INTERNET! WOW! INCREDIBLE! GOLLY GEE WIZ!