hen we were kids, we did it on the playground. When we were teens, we did it inóor afteróschool. When we got to college, we did it at parties or sometimes in the library or the dining hall over brunch. As adults, it became harder: more responsibilities, and less free time. But somehow, we managed to sneak it in, between 9-to-5 jobs and breastfeeding and soccer matches. Still, it wasnít easy, and sometimes it seemed more effort than it was really worth.
Iím talking about making friends. Finding someone to laugh with. Finding someone to share ideas with. Finding someone whoíll give the honest advice you donít want to hear. It gets harder as we get older, doesnít it? We not only lack the time to devote to making and maintaining friends, we sometimes forget the social skills we need to keep them. And if youíre a writer who works from home, developing a network of like-minded people can prove to be challenging.
Thankfully, in the twenty-first century itís become a whole different playground. With one click of the mouse, we can befriend people on the other side of the globe as easily as those right down the road. We can forge relationships with people of all cultures, in any location. We can conduct business, submit query letters, receive contracts, or exchange editorial comments.
"...the people you meet online will grow to know you through your words and the tone of your posts."
Five years ago, I joined my first online writing group. Now, countless groups and boards and blogs later, I can say that I have virtual friends around the world. They have helped me learn the craft of writing, but along the way, they have also become significant parts of my life. We cheer each otherís successes, and we support each otherís losses. We ask advice. We bemoan lifeís bumps. Best of all, we have helped each other negotiate the rough road to publication.
The cyber world is not the same as the playgroundóor the grocery store or the boardroom, though. Communicating online comes with its own set of rules and expectations. So, itís crucial for new writers who seek online support and resources to consider some 'Netiquette tips:
1. Know what youíre getting yourself into.
When you begin looking for a writing group to join, it can be overwhelming. Visit a few, and spend some time reading posts and announcements. Is the group genre-specific, or is it open to writers of all areas and experience? How do they treat newcomers? What do they expect in terms of participation and time commitment? What can they offer you?
Post questions. Most groups have a moderator or "den mother" who will explain the rules and expectations or point you to an archive where you can read up for yourself.
2. Create your online persona carefully.
Cyberspace can be a wonderful place to forge new friendships, especially for anyone whoís more reserved in a face-to-face setting. But remember that the people you meet online will grow to know you through your words and the tone of your posts.
If you plan to have a signature line that attaches to every post, what will you include? General information like your website address or email? A quotation that reflects your personality? A witty comment? A picture? If so, what kind of picture will you attach? A headshot? A photo of you holding your newborn, or playing with your dog on the beach?
Think carefully about what each piece of information says about who you are and what you value. Do you want to be viewed as a stoic nonfiction writer, a fun-loving flash fiction author, an overwhelmed stay-at-home mom who writes advice columns? You get the idea.
"Every time you post asking for feedback of your own, you should provide other members with feedback as well."
3. Don't hog the board.
When you belong to a writing group (or any online group, really), you might be tempted to jump right in and post every few minutes. You might have a novel that desperately needs editing, so you want to post a chapter every other day. If that seems to be the general practice of the group, then OK. But make sure that you leave room/time for other people to participate as well. Take a look when you first join. How often do members post? Do the same one or two members post all the time? Or is there a balanced give-and-take among all the members? And along those lines...
4. If you are asking for feedback, make sure you give it as well.
Too many people come to the table with their own agendas, and when they get what they need, turn around and leave. If you're asking for a poll response, make sure you participate when others have polls as well. If you need someone to read your query letter, read theirs when they post it. Do members provide detailed, line-by-line critiques of your work? Then strive to do the same for them. Every time you post asking for feedback of your own, you should provide other members with feedback as well.
"They come in a variety of emotions, and they can be fine to emphasize a sentence or clarify a point. Just donít use a different one at the end of every sentence."
5. Watch your tone.
This one can be tough. Whether you email, IM, chat, or post, anonymous cyber-communication has changed the way people interact. You can not see someone's facial expression when you're reading her email or post, so if you are offended or sense a negative tone, donít overreact. Ask for clarification. Many times it's just the person's word choice rather than a personal attack.
Sometimes youíll misread sarcasm or irony, especially if you donít know the person that well. From your own end, be polite, and apologize if you sense someone has taken your post or message the wrong way. Online relationships require an extra level of sensitivity to the give-and-take of conversation.
6. Take it easy with emotionóand emoticons.
Donít post in all capital letters or with an exclamation point at the end of every sentence, or all in bold. Any of these can come across as shouting. Watch your use of smiley faces, too. They come in a variety of emotions, and they can be fine to emphasize a sentence or clarify a point. Just donít use a different one at the end of every sentence. Not only does this become a kind of cutesy emotional overload, but sometimes those emoticons donít format correctly in peopleís emails. What they read instead of a winking smiley face is a string of funny characters that donít make sense.
7. Leave personal problems offline.
Not always, of course; sometimes your cyber-friends can help you through tough times. This, again, depends on the makeup of the group itself. Some groups share personal ups and downs on a daily basis while some discourage it. In any case, do be careful which dirty laundry you choose to air. If you want everyone to know about your spouseís bout with addiction, or the death of your pet, then fine. But you may want to be a little discerning about the details. Remember, there is no privacy on the Internet, no matter how careful you try to be. And remember that most groups are open to just about anyone who wants to join.
"...if you find someone online with whom you really click, take the extra step to remind them how important they are to you."
8. Reciprocate the nice stuff.
Do your online friends remember your birthday and send you e-cards? Do the same for them. Do they email you offline if you need something? Return the favor. The wonderful thing about cyberspace is that you can connect, instantly, to people around the world who share your thoughts, values, or goals. Some of my cyber friendships are just as strong as those I have with my coworkers or former college roommates. But itís worth remembering that every friendship takes maintenance, so if you find someone online with whom you really click, take the extra step to remind them how important they are to you.
9. Find an online group that supports and matches your particular needs.
Take some time to consider where you are in your writing career, what youíd like to gain from interacting with others, and what you have to offer. Some groups can provide wonderful direction and support for newbies, while others are targeted more specifically for exchanging honest, no-holds-barred critiques. You might find that a genre-specific group is what you need, or you might search for a group that actively discusses the world of agents and publishing.
Writers Village University, for example, is a great place to take classes and join genre-specific study groups. Absolute Write is a collection of boards that has a strong presence of active writers: youíll find discussions on almost any writing-related topic there, along with places to hook up with a critique partner or post a chapter for feedback. Additionally, many e-publishers have Yahoo groups where their authors share news, excerpts, or promotional ideasómake sure to ask when youíre offered that contract!
10. Wherever you find a place to hang your hat, remember that online, as in the real world, your reputation will precede you.
Though the Internet is a big place, writers know each other, and boy, do they talk!
Above all, remember to play nice in the cyber-sandbox.
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Allie Boniface is an award winning high school English teacher who lives in the northern NYC suburbs with her husband. A member of both the national and local chapters of Romance Writers of America, she has been writing fiction for approximately five years. Her debut novel, One Night in Boston, was recently released by Samhain Publishing. This contemporary romance novel tells the story of Maggie and Jack, former lovers who meet up after ten years to discover that strong feelings still lie between them.
Read WOW!'s interview with Allie on The Muffin!
Visit Allieís Website to get the latest: https://www.allieboniface.com