The Internet has made it possible for writers all over the world, to get together in social groups, to discuss all things literary, but how successful can these virtual communities be?Are they really sociable places and do they satisfy the people that take part in them?Are they constructive in aiding writers with their creativity?
Generally these types of Internet communities are successful. Never before in life has it been so easy to be in touch and have contact with people we might never have known, and in some cases, have the opportunity to meet in real life.Within a few seconds we can share news or creative thoughts with someone on the other side of the world and often have feedback just as quickly.Writing communities create a place of international meeting, without the travelling, or frustration of snail mail. This essay will take a look at one particular writing community, and why it has been so successful during its first 2 years of life.As a moderator and a writer on Mirabile Visu, I can testify personally why I feel this to be true.
Mirabile Visu (http://p076.ezboard.com/bmirabilevisu) was set up after the success of a small fortnightly writing challenge, known as Short Sharp Imaginative Writings (SSIW) that was tucked away within a fanfiction and original fiction forum on a Tolkien-related message board.It was the brainchild of Valamber, a regular member to the board.The idea behind the challenge was to take a subject (example: boots) and ask people to produce a piece of fiction, with the small limit of 500 words, or a poem relating to that subject.
It proved to be very popular and quickly moved away from Tolkien matters.With this in mind, Valamber and fellow board member Petiteflower, decided to create and design Mirabile Visu, an entire separate community, dedicated to original creative writing.Alongside SSIW, new forums were born.There are places for members (referred to as ‘MV-ers’) to put up their original works to be read, or if brave enough, a Tear It To Shreds forum (affectionately known as ‘TITS’), where a piece can be displayed for constructive criticism. This particular forum is valuable because it requires a certain degree of commitment from the person reviewing and offering advice. This discourages negative comments that are not constructive or helpful to the writer whose work is being reviewed. TITS, is also helpful to a reviewer and offers the chance for members to improve their critiquing skills, which in turn can only help improve creative skills in their own work.We not only learn from our own mistakes, we learn from the mistakes of others too.
A popular forum is Journals. Members in the community derive from the USA, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, and even Singapore. Journals gives us all an opportunity to share our daily lives with each other and learn about life in faraway places, as well as getting to know our fellow members better.
The central hub of Mirabile Visu is probably the Café Caupona, where the sense of community is very alive.Writers’ have vivid imaginations, and with virtual doughnuts, to-die-for cheesecakes and elaborate coffees on offer, this is a truly social corner of the Internet.Conversations on anything from the weather, word games, and life’s hilarities to browsing through the MV Art Gallery take place in a comfortable surrounding.The Arena is also close by, for the more serious and controversial debates that may crop up.
Twice a year, a writing project currently runs.This involves agreeing on an established worldwide competition that offers a cash prize.Members wanting to take part can draft and re-draft their entries in an invisible forum, viewable only to the other entrants working in the project, who help and encourage each others progress. The aim is a group project, which encourages the satisfaction of teamwork among MV-ers, and hopefully one day, a member being successful in a competition.
Once in a while (time zones permitting), an online Chatwrite is organised, which is very exciting.Those who can make it meet up in the chatroom and a 20-minute Prose/Poetry challenge is set – a mini SSIW competition.This is another successful social event, which not only seems to bring fellow writers closer together, but also jump-starts the brain into instant action to meet the terrifying deadline – good fun for those who have just got out of bed at the start of their day.
As far as a sense of social community goes, Mirabile Visu has been very successful.A quote from Valamber herself has summed up her thoughts on the website as ‘food for the brain AND champagne for the soul’1, and another member, named Dreamer, feels that the website gives her ‘friends, stories, writing support, prizes, laughs, good recipes’2.This seems to be the general opinion among MV-ers.Unfortunately, one of the disadvantages is that it is more difficult to get a sense of an opposite point of view.Unsatisfied members tend to vanish without a word, perhaps deeming it not even worth their while to comment on what they disliked, which doesn’t help solve any problems that there might be.
It is very much an interactive-writing community that has, on occasion, spilled over into real life.Many have brought their real-life writing friends on board, and meetings between other members have taken place, including international Mv-ers who have managed to meet on occasion.These gatherings have all been positive so far.The Internet, however, is an unpredictable medium and there can be no guarantees that an element of it will not turn sour and have a negative effect.We have no way of knowing, without a doubt, that members are genuine and who they say they are.Anonymity may be a blessing to the person wishing to remain a mystery or who wants to protect their identity, but it is also this unknown aspect that makes us distrustful of others.It seems that only time and a leap of faith that allows a fellow member closer can dispel our doubts.
The creative aspect of a writing community like Mirabile Visu, has the potential to be very successful.These places give writers the chance to have their work widely read and very easily, and with feedback.The standard of feedback can vary, and there is always the chance of a negative comment that can be hard not to take to heart, but a good-moderated community will protect its members from this kind of abuse by friendly diplomatic means, or in extreme cases bring into action their moderator powers and ban an undesirable.
A creative writing site will suffer from the same problems as any interactive place on the Internet. The lack of face-to-face experience often leaves us misunderstanding another’s meaning and we may take offence where none is intended. Emoticons are used to try and alleviate such problems, and to a degree they work, but relying on these little facial expressions to illustrate our words is not ideal.Silence is also another grey area of interpretation.Nothing is worse for a writer than posting up a piece of work, only to have no-one respond to it at all.With busy lives often taking priority, a writing community on the Internet may not always find the time to read and make comments on somebody’s work.This can leave a bad impression, especially if a member is new.Sometimes, a temptation for a new member is to take the community by storm and inundate the forums with many examples of their work.One such experience happened on Mirable Visu, and members tried but failed to keep up with feedback.The result was the writer appeared to get a case of the sulks at the lack of acknowledgement and finally withdrew in pouty silence, taking his work wi
th him, leaving many blank posts behind.
The advantage of these websites, is that you can lurk in obscurity and spy on the community’s activities for a while, before deciding if you wish to join in. This does seem like an advisable course to follow. You can get to know the members a little better by reading and following their posts on the website. It gives you a chance to see if they are people you might like to mix virtually with, and to check out the style of writing of other members. Is the website diverse, or do they only encourage a certain genre of writing? Is the feedback offered constructive or insulting, or just biased and insipid? Does the community grow and evolve, or stay firmly stuck at a certain level? These are all things to be taken into consideration when looking for a good creative outlet on the Internet.
If you enter the realm of a writing community on the Internet, you need to know what you want out of it for yourself, and have done a little research on the community before jumping straight in. The standard of these communities can also vary, from smaller and more amateur websites, such as Mirabile Visu, and similar places like Scribes3, to the more professional communities, often requiring membership subscriptions, like Authors Den4, which has thousands of members. It all depends on what you are personally looking for in a writing community.
The fact that many regulars stay and visit Mirabile Visu on a daily basis is testimony to its particular success, and all the while new members join in and the regular list grows steadily longer.It is a small friendly community without being insular.It does not just offer you a place to showcase your work it strives to improve you, and it is constantly being reviewed for new ideas to keep it fresh.This is the type of writing community that does work, and satisfies many writers – whether they seek to be published one day, or if they merely enjoy dabbling with a bit of creativity.
Being a Moderator on Mirabile Visu has been and continues to be a positive experience for me.It is good to always be aware that it is not a perfect place and that things can go wrong, as they do in the real world, but the friendly atmosphere among members goes a long way to helping this be a rare occurrence.
Of course, the attraction to this particular site could just be the virtual doughnuts.
© Carolyn Eddy 2005
3.http://com1.runboard.com/bthescribesmessageboard (accessed online on 4/1/05)
4.http://www.authorsden.com (accessed online on 4/1/05)
5. http://p076.ezboard.com/bmirabilevisu (accessed daily)
Carolyn Eddy is studying Creative and Professional Writing at University of Glamorgan in Wales. She can be contacted at: Capri303T@aol.com