Wake up, Polly Parrot.


Places To Hang (Or Be Hanged)
by Brian Plante

If you're a beginning writer, maybe you should skip this article. If you read it, and check out some of the places I'm going to mention, it may very well sabotage your writing career. You might learn a thing or two, but if you really get hooked, it can seriously eat away at your writing time. These are the places where many writers and readers of science fiction, fantasy and horror literature congregate online to discuss the business. You can gain a lot of knowledge about the writing game by hanging out in these places and trading information with fellow writers. There is so much going on in some of them that it can become a daily pursuit to keep up with the conversations. I do believe the on-line hangouts are useful, if for no other reason than they give the writer a sense of community. Writing is a lonely, mostly anti-social activity, and chewing the fat with your fellow writers online can help you keep from getting too discouraged by the isolation of it all. Just remember that the online communities are not an end in itself, but a useful diversion. Don't get so wrapped up in them that you don't have time left over for the actual writing process. Your writing is the real work at hand, and you must not spend so much time reading and responding to the message boards that it interferes with that.

Back in 1995 when I was still just getting started in genre writing, the place to be was a service called GEnie. It was pretty primitive compared to the Web of today, but it seemed like every science fiction and fantasy writer was on that service. It was the only real choice if you wanted to connect with the SF writing community. Alas, that service mismanaged itself into oblivion, and the inhabitants spread out across the Internet.

Sff.net is, to my mind, the most direct successor to GEnie. Lots of pro writers are always found posting messages on a daily basis on sff.net, and you can rub shoulders and get advice from many of your favorite authors. The bad news is that you have to join (i.e. pay real money, Napster-boy) to gain full access to the private newsgroups. There are some newsgroups you can get into as a guest, but I think you really want to be a member of this community if you're serious about genre writing. The good news is that you can get a free membership if you are a member of SFWA or HWA. In fact, that's one of the better perks for joining SFWA. Of course, to become an active member of SFWA, you need some credentials, so until then, a paid membership to sff.net may be worth it, to help you get those SFWA credentials. In addition to the public newsgroups, there are also a lot of private SFWA newsgroups you'll want to get access to.

Another direct successor to GEnie is Dueling Modems. I'm not sure how active DM is these days, but it is the home of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Round Table, the old forum from the GEnie days. When GEnie went south, most of the folks there split up between DM and sff.net. I tried to follow both for a while, but sff.net seemed like a better fit for me. It's been so long since I've been on DM, though, that I don't know what sort of crowd they have there now, so you might find it more to your liking. Like sff.net, you have to join, but there's a free 30-day trial you can take advantage of, to see if DM is right for you. Check out both sff.net and DM and pick a winner.

While the excellent email magazine Speculations is subscription-only, its Rumor Mill forums are free. These are very active boards, with lots of good info for fledgling writers. The Rumor Mill seems heavily populated with newer writers working their way up the ladder, with less of the pros you see on sff.net, but there's still plenty of good advice here, and a lot of important market news appears in the Rumor Mill first.

Analog, Asimov's, and Fantasy & Science Fiction magazines also have free forums. These are populated mostly by the readers of their respective magazines, with a few writers and editors from time to time, and are excellent for discussing the mags, as well as SF in general. The emphasis is on science fiction, not necessarily writing, but these are good places to connect with the readers and find out what these markets are looking for. There is a lot of crossover population in these three forums, so you're apt to see the same people posting in all three.

There's a bunch of interesting forums on Usenet, in the rec.arts.sf.* heading. Of particular note to readers and writers is the rec.arts.sf.written forum. It's big and chaotic at times, and the reader greatly outnumber the writers. This is a good place to connect with your audience, but, typical of Usenet, there's just too many conversations going on at the same time for me, so I only check in occasionally there. As they say on the boards, your mileage may vary.

There are many other forums, such as Delphi, The Well, the Night Shade boards (which also hosts the aforementioned F&SF magazine forum), and individual writers sites (a couple of notables are Holly Lisle and Orson Scott Card).

The problem with all this is time. You can't really keep up with all of them, so you have to pick your spots. The Rumor Mill for sure, as it won't cost you anything to give it a whirl. Sff.net (or perhaps DM) if you're really serious about writing and want to hear more from veteran writers. Check out the magazine sites if you're trying to break in at any of those markets or just want to discuss those particular magazines. Maybe have look at some of the others to see if you find something particularly to your liking.

I hang out mostly at sff.net, the Rumor Mill, and the Analog & Asimov's forums, with occasional visits to some of the others. If you visit any of them expecting to see more of my precious pearls of wisdom, don't be disappointed if my name doesn't show up too often. I lurk a lot, which is to say I read many of the posts, but only respond rarely. It's not that I'm selfish or anything, but getting too wrapped up in heated discussions often takes more time than I'm willing to devote to the forums. And there's also a bit of insecurity (hard to believe, eh?) that sometimes makes me hold my tongue, knowing there are far better experts at nearly every turn. There are also plenty of pretenders, but you figure out who's who after a while. If you're reasonably thick-skinned, by all means get out there and start mixing it up with the big boys, but watch what you say: a flip remark or incorrect statement could set off a flame war if you're not careful. Then again, sometimes that can be a fun diversion for awhile. Just don't make any permanent enemies. You never know who's going to be the editor somewhere down the line when your story goes out in the mail looking for a home.

Copyright © 2003 Brian Plante Count= 5618

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