Browse the web, join any writing group. Note where the bulk of the action is.
Is it in "The Coffee Shop", or "The Lounge" or "Chat"?
Is it in "Chill Corner" or "The Asylum"?
How much of the discussion is pub-arguments, flaming, or flirting?
Are many of the forums there, those dedicated to novels or short-stories or flashes, or poetry struggling to survive?
In one so-called writing community I visited, "The XXXXX" and a second "more frivolous" chat-room took up a massive NINETY PER CENT of the site's bandwith.
Everything else, Writing, Craft Discussions, critiquing, process, subbing, motivation, hits etc was the magnificent total of 9% of the whole.
I look in on many communities and this pattern is repeated everywhere.
The Lounge or the Coffee Shop is where "the business" is and this area grows a small clique of 5-25 people and perhaps a hundred or so hangers-on. Very rarely are more than half a dozen of these genuinely successful writers. Take a look at the publications list and see how many are self-published, pod-published or published in low-end ezines.
Assess the number of reported publications, (and their quality) but relate that to the size of the community.
I looked today at one community which boasted 100 successes in 2006.
BC, not a twentieth of its size, had 171 hits. It had 24 First Prizes.
That community has hundreds, possibly thousands of members. When we look at how many individuals from the community are getting publication success the percentage is tiny. Over 90% are not being published.
When BC started the first thing we said was that we failed if any member was unpublished at the end of any year.
What is the point of a community of writers where the few succeed but the many fail completely?
I looked yesterday at the published stats for another writers community. In 2007 they have had ten tiny hits. Boot Camp is relatively quiet but this year it has had 33 hits and two "notes" (small hits).
So is that a big difference? 350%? Not in real numbers, no.
But the community, which advertises itself as "the best on the web", has hundreds upon hundreds of members. It's between 30 and 200 times bigger than Boot Camp.
If they were doing as well as BC for hits they would be posting their thousandth hit for 2007 by now, not ten.
SO WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?
After seeing how much time most, if not all, so-called "writing" communities spend on the coffee-shop game-playing, the hierarchy-building, the high-fiving buddies when they put someone down, the psychological games, the flirting, the obsequious praise of often trivial hits, the "group-hugs" etc I thought I would look at Boot Camp Statistics and see where we spent our time.
Did we work or piss away our lives in idele nonsense?
I looked at BC and counted posts. Where was our activity?
62% 31,342 Stories, Flashes, Writing & Critiquing
16% 08,263 Craft & Reading
07% 03,457 Motivation: Subs, Hits, Process
08% 04,003 Comps, Market Info, Serious Discussion (some chat)
04% 02,094 Admin
03% 01,550 CHAT
93% of Boot Camp Bandwith is about writing and craft. Just 3-5% is idle chatter.
Ask yourself, do I access my writing community to AVOID writing or do I access it because the community encourages me to write?
Does the community and its leaders stress I should write EVERY DAY?
Does it tell me to write at least 500 words every day BEFORE LOGGING ON.
Does it "bully me" insisting I should sub an absolute minimum of one sub a week but I should really do more?
Does it publish lists and update them every day to show who is subbing and who is not?
Does it have flash prompts every day, often 2-3 flash sessions?
Does it insist all flashers must read and comment on all other flashes that session?
Does it have weekly and fortnightly deadlines for stories?
Are those deadlines rigid?
Does it insist that every story is read author-unknown and every story gets at least eight critiques?
Does it have a set pattern, a core critique so all crits can be easily compared and contrasted?
Does EVERY story get at least twenty discussion posts?
Do the most contentious stories have threads as long as 100 posts?
Does a highly-published, prize-winning author/editor offer editorial input and use a story in a session to illustrate basic faults?
Does it come down hard if critques are slight and ducking the issues?
Does it insist that difference of opinion on the worth of a story be discussed not left as "mere" subjectivity?
Have the community members won 114 first prizes?
Does it average a first prize every two weeks?
Boot Camp does.
But then it's HUGE, isn't it? Er, hardly. It has just 23 members on record, (including me) only 15 currently active, others away or writing novels etc.
15 people able to out-write 1500, able to out-publish 1500.
WHY? Because we do the work.
Are we supportive? Ask any Boot Camper. I see my job as teaching people to write, teaching them the discipline of writing. To become a writer you must work very, very hard over extended time.
A "writing community" that doesn't make you work is a place that makes you feel good. The only trouble is, you'll be feeling about the same in 5-10 years and you'll be wondering why all you have to show for your "effort" is a few ezine publications.
Group hug anyone?