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Question of the Week: Writer Communities.

by Susan Henderson on April 30, 2007

What’s your experience been with writer communities and workshops, whether real-life or online?

*

Wednesday, Karen Dionne of Backspace will be here. I had a hunch Karen was well-loved by more than me so I went behind her back with my two super-sleuths, Lauren Baratz-Logsted and Carolyn Burns Bass, to see if any members of Backspace wanted to share their opinions of Karen.

They did….

Jessica Keener: “Karen Dionne has transformed the way I experience my writing life on a daily basis. With the creation of Backspace, along with Chris Graham, she has attracted an impressive roster of writers and literary professionals in a short time span, bringing together writers of immensely different backgrounds, levels of experience, and genres. It works because Karen treats everyone fairly, with intelligence, grace and extraordinary generosity. It’s an exceptional forum. I’ve seen nothing that compares to it. And I’ve gained a friend in the process.”

Lauren Baratz-Logsted: “When people ask me what to do to improve their chances of getting published or their existing careers, the first thing I tell them is to join Backspace. There is no better site that I know of for writers to come together and inform, celebrate and commiserate over all things writing. Three cheers for Karen for creating it!”

Cornelia Read: “Karen Dionne has not only created one of the most amazingly supportive and useful writers’ communities EVER, she is also a tremendously talented author and downright boon companion. It is both a pleasure and an honor to know her.”

Heather Brewer: “Karen Dionne is a true gift to the writing community. Through her selfless effort in creating the Backspace Organization, writers have access to inside information about how the publishing industry works and countless answers to the questions that are brewing in their skulls. To top it all off, she’s written a book that sounds incredible. Let’s face it, the woman is a god.”

Joanne Levy: “Karen Dionne is to writers what Nurses are to patients – nuturing, caring and willing to work tirelessly to do everything she can to help, and then some. I’ve had the pleasure of ‘knowing’ Karen viturally through the Backspace Forums and am thankful for her hard work and generous soul.”

Kristin Nelson: “Karen Dionne is a force to be reckoned with in the publishing industry. Several years ago, she took an idea (the idea of a private writers’ forum where published authors could feel comfortable sharing their knowledge without fear of internet trolls) and turned it into a reality. And then she went a step further, she created the definitive website for writers…a site full of great educational tips, articles, writer resources etc.

“That’s the professional Karen. The personal Karen has a huge heart. Despite being on her own journey to get published, she set aside time to inspire and mentor other writers on their journeys. To me, that makes her not only a great author but a great human being…and there is no higher compliment than that. I’m honored to call her a friend.”

Steve Hendlin: “I’ve known Karen over five years and witnessed her unfailing generosity in helping writers at all levels with her good cheer, information, and support. She refused to give up on her own writing, and her dogged persistence paid off in selling Freezing Point. My desire to support her and Backspace led to my decision to contribute Your Write Mind to the site.”

Lori F. Weinrott: “Karen’s manifold talents remind me of the story of the five Chinese brothers; she’s always got another angle on something. Come to think of it, maybe she’s one of the Dionne quintuplets, and there’s really five of her. How else to explain? I’ve never met anyone so thorough and accomplished. She even manages to do it all with such care and kindness. She’s a blessing in disguise!”

Lynn Sinclair: “There’s no doubt in my mind that Karen is the result of the first successfully cloned human. Either that or she has ten arms and five heads. Not only did she co-create Backspace, she continues to maintain the popular website; co-ordinates the conferences; her book, Freezing Point, is soon to be released; continues writing, and takes care of a busy family and business. The woman is a wonder, and one I’m proud to call a friend.”

Terri Molina: “Karen is like that favorite aunt you had as a child – loving, supportive, encouraging. She makes you believe you’ll be a published writer and you can’t help but want to make her proud.”

Ian Barker (IanB): “I first came across Karen several years ago on another writers’ site. She was always a voice of calm and reason in the sometimes crazy world of Internet message boards, so when I heard she was forming Backspace I knew it would be a serious project and that I had to be a member.”

Sandra Kring: “Altruistic, humble, and exceedingly supportive, Karen Dionne is the figurehead of Backspace.org, leading aspiring writers, and established authors alike, through the choppy waters of the publishing world.”

Marlys Pearson: “We writers of Backspace might occasionally find the Muse elusive, but we always know where to find our Grace. Whether it’s her own writing career, the creation of an ambitious web site for writers, or dealing with a creepy internet stalker, Karen Dionne handles the situation with common sense, good humor, and aplomb. If what goes around, comes around, then Karen’s book is going to be a runaway best seller – and that will just be an advance payment on the good things she’s due. I can’t wait to see what happens next.”

Tish Cohen: “Karen is the den mother I never had. She cheers for her cubs’ successes, separates them when they gnaw on each other, and never makes them feel crummy for being computer illiterate – as cubs are wont to be. And she’s a soon-to-be-published author in her spare time. She’s incredible.”

Martha O’Connor: “Karen Dionne is one of the most giving, caring, creative people I know. I’m so pleased to see her finally receiving the recognition she deserves. Huzzah, Karen!”

Carolyn Burns Bass: “Karen was one of my first real online friends. We met at a crazy, noisy, sometimes troll-infested writing group, where she was one of the sane voices who didn’t attack you for asking newbie publishing questions. What made Karen stand out was her transparency. She never wore an online mask, nor attempted to be something she wasn’t. She had every hope to be a published author, worked tirelessly on her own projects, yet always had time to help others. Backspace is the result of her passion to foster the growth of others. She and co-founder Chris Graham have created a community of writers that circles the world with the purpose of writers helping writers. When Karen announced the sale of FREEZING POINT I rejoiced for days. I’m still rejoicing.”

Rebecca del Rio: “Karen Dionne is a treasure; she’s the perfect embodiment of Backspace’s slogan, ’Writers helping writers.’ ”

Melanie Lynne Hauser: “Karen Dionne is one of those people you just know is going to succeed in this business. Not only is she a terrific writer but she’s the hardest working writer I know – and the most positive one, too. I just know she’s going to have a long, successful career – and there’s nobody who deserves it more than she does!”

A.S. King: “Karen Dionne is one of those people who just automatically does good things. Her positive outlook, generosity, and modesty have been an example to hundreds of writers. The best part is – she would never admit to this!!”

Mark Bastable: “Karen founded Backspace because she’s a serious writer and she could see the need for a resource that supported people like her. The time that she spends running Backspace is time that she might otherwise spend writing. In other words, she sacrifices her own writing in order to enable ours. That tells you just about all you need to know about Karen.”

Harry Hunsicker: “What’s the term for a kind, gentle, deserving, gifted writer? Oh, yeah . . . Karen Dionne.”

Kelly, aka Keara, Backspace member: “Karen Dionne works harder at achieving dreams than anyone else I know, and for every moment she devotes to her dreams, she spends an hour helping others pursue theirs.”

Ty Drago: “From the day she invited me to join Backspace, Karen has been the unshakable backbone of this forum. Her unwavering fairness and unflagging commitment has never failed to impress me. There simply would BE no Backspace without her. Karen is truly a devoted writer’s advocate and an absolutely amazing person!”

Kristy Kiernan: “Karen Dionne’s unflagging commitment to the writing community is a constant source of inspiration, and if they ever work out those pesky kinks in cloning she’ll be one of the first people on my list.”

Renee Rosen: “Karen’s generous spirit prevails throughout the entire Backspace site. She has pulled together a wonderful group of writers and publishing professionals, giving us all an invaluable oasis of literary support!”

Katie Alender: “In my experience with Karen, she’s just about the most thoughtful and helpful person on the planet. How she manages not only to maintain this site, stay active on it, AND write, all without turning into the savage beast most writers are known for being, is beyond me. But I’m glad she does. I love being a part of Backspace.”

Rozinante from Backspace: “With the patience of a master seamstress, Karen Dionne has stitched together a vibrant community of thinkers and wordsmiths. Backspace is a breathing thesaurus, a personal research service, a marketplace of ideas, a WWF smackdown and a MaryTylerMooreShow group hug. Karen had an artist’s vision and poured into it the elbow grease of a craftsman. We are the ones reaping the rewards. Brava!”

Carrie Kabak: “One hell of a businesswoman! Hardworking, and efficient to the max. I applaud Karen’s tenacity, success and generosity.”

EJ Knapp: “Writers tend to be isolative and egoistic. Put a dozen or more in a room together and half will seclude themselves while the other half will scream at each other. Karen Dionne, with a grace and aplomb far exceeding anything I could imagine mustering, has gathered together a hundred times that number of writers in a multi-roomed virtual world known as Backspace and not have the place go nuclear. Karen is a sharp tactician, an excellent negotiator, a superb writer, a gentle teacher and a good friend.”

Tasha Alexander: “You’d be hard pressed to find a writer more generous than Karen. She’s talented, energetic, and tireless – I’m amazed by all that she’s accomplished.”

Rachel Elizabeth Cole: “Karen is my inspiration, my hero. She’s proved time and again that if you want something badly enough – be it a book deal or the best darn writing site on the world wide web – you can do it. I can’t say enough how much I admire, respect and really love her. She’s like my mom, my best friend and my sister all rolled into one. And she’s a darn good writer too.”

Marcus Sakey: “Backspace is a family of writers, and like any family, it centers around the mother. Without Karen, god love her, a bunch of us would be orphans.”

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Lori Oliva April 30, 2007 at 9:24 am

Lauren recommended Backspace to me a couple of months ago and I can’t explain how helpful it’s been. I remember taking a huge sigh of relief when I first logged onto the forum and began reading all the topics and input from writers, agents and editors. The articles are great too and the opportunity to connect with writers and other industry professionals is like a gift from above! It is a valuable resource for me. Thanks, Lauren!

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Laura Benedict April 30, 2007 at 9:48 am

I occasionally do writing workshops for children and teenagers. It’s a restorative process for me. How thrilling it is to absorb their energy and marvel at the fearlessness of their storytelling.

I envy all the beginning writers who now have so many online resources like Backspace and so many interested, supportive role models. It wasn’t like that half a hundred years ago when I started writing. Workshops seemed to be stilted or, alternately, drunken affairs where a celebrity writer bestowed publishing advice to a few folks lucky enough to hang ’round at the bar. The internet is a wonderful thing.

But the 1989 Appalachian Writers Workshop at the Hindman Settlement School in Hindman, KY will forever be my favorite workshop because I met my (future) husband, Pinckney, there!

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Karen Dionne April 30, 2007 at 11:08 am

Wow. I’m speechless. (Except when it comes to the topic of writing communities, of course. More on that on Wednesday.)

For now, I’ll just say that I think the above comments (thank you, all you lovely people) only prove how lucky we all are to be writing in the Internet age as Laura says. How else could I ever have made so many wonderful and talented writer friends?

As for you, Susan, what a sneaky, lovely thing to do!

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Chris Graham April 30, 2007 at 11:48 am

In addition to being a lovely person and an incredible writer, Karen possesses an unfailing optimism that we rarely find in the world anymore. There have been several times over the past few years where we’ve hit some bumps in the road with the Backspace forums and conferences. Karen meets these bumps and setbacks head-on, she doesn’t flinch and she doesn’t let it stop her. I know there have been a few instances where I was ready to throw in the towel, but as Karen likes to say, “Onward!” We push on, we get through it, we succeed because of her.

I’m blessed to have her as a partner in this venture and can honestly say without Karen Dionne there would be no Backspace.

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Julie Ann Shapiro April 30, 2007 at 1:03 pm

I agree with everyone here. Karen is extremely supportive and has a very warm heart. She’s another you, Susan.

I was briefly in Backspace and found it to be a stimulating environment and a good resource. I opted to spend more time in my offsite writers workshop. It’s comprised of various friends I’ve met locally and some at Zoetrope.com.

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Susan Henderson April 30, 2007 at 1:39 pm

I was curious why it was so quiet around here, and someone passed me a note that today is Blog Silence Day, in honor of those who died at VA. Tech.

http://www.onedayblogsilence.com

Most of you know I grew up in Virginia, and I’m glad to honor the students and professors who died this month. Just not with silence. Something about it doesn’t sit well with me – maybe because innocents die every day in Darfur and Iraq and in the local Children’s Hospital, and so on, and – God, I’m typing, erasing, typing, erasing, trying to say this in a way that doesn’t sound insensitive. I guess I just don’t want to weigh the importance of one group of people over another. Hope you understand my decision here to keep LitPark open today.

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Julie Ann Shapiro April 30, 2007 at 2:05 pm

I agree with you Susan. Silence to honor the dead sometimes is just too quiet. And the live’s of the dead just aren’t in most cases. The people I know that have died spoke often along the journey how they wanted us to celebrate them in memory – by living and doing what we love and thinking fondly of them. And why not yell about the injustices that took their lives too soon. or beat a drum and talk and talk about all the dreams of their lives that we lost and how we need to live their dreams and ours and make this world a better place.

Forget silence – it’s a horrible event took their lives. It makes me look at violence in the media and cringe. Sometimes society just mirrors too much of what is out there. Why not mirror flowers and love and kindness more?

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Susan Henderson April 30, 2007 at 2:08 pm

Lori – Isn’t Lauren like the fairy godmother of for writers?

Laura – I’m so glad you’re here! And I’m practically dying waiting for your book to be released!

Karen – It was very difficult to keep this a surprise. I agree with you that the internet allows you to connect with the most amazing people who would never have otherwise crossed your path.

Chris – Yeah, the real measure of someone’s heart and fortitude is how they handle the bumps.

Julie – I’ve had lovely real-life workshops, but I’m sporadic about when I want to get down to work, so internet workshops and communities work with middle of the night ideas and lazy days in pajamas. I’m glad you have a good one.

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Terry April 30, 2007 at 2:39 pm

Once upon a time there was this thing called Zoetrope.com where I used to spend all my waking hours. Then I realized that all my waking hours included hours I should have been writing. So now I spend all my waking hours imagining what I could be writing if I weren’t sitting in coffee shops and eavesdropping on patrons.

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LaurenBaratz-Logsted April 30, 2007 at 3:10 pm

I had no idea it was silent-blog day and am afraid I’ve been blogging all over the place today.

In terms of writing communities, I belong to a couple of great Yahoogroups – ChickLit and TeenLitAuthors – and there are six writers including myself, all who write different things from one another, who meet every Friday at my place to drink wine and critique one another.

LitPark is a writing community that is its own special heaven.

As stated above, I do think Backspace is a great place for writers, which is why when I speak publicly I always recommend it.

Oh, and now I’m “the fairy godmother”? Does that mean it’s permissable for me to be fat and I get to carry a wand? I always thought I should have a crown but a wand could be good.

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Jordan E. Rosenfeld April 30, 2007 at 4:17 pm

Well now I have to check out Backspace! Thanks for this, Sue.

I almost posted the same thing on my blog about the blog silence day…I respect the need for silence over V-tech (or any deaths). But I can’t help but feel that we mourn our dead so loudly because we aren’t able to (willing to?) cope with the death that’s taking place in Iraq and Sudan to name the most obvious.

sigh
J

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Susan Henderson April 30, 2007 at 6:05 pm

Terry – But I met you through Zoetrope, t, so it was all good.

Lauren – Ooh, I need to talk to you about the TeenLit group because they’re trying to do my book as a crossover between the YA and Adult markets.

Jordan – Yeah. And it’s with absolute respect for those who are mourning and for those who kept their blogs silent today. It just didn’t fit with how I view the world. But go, Hokies!

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LaurenBaratz-Logsted April 30, 2007 at 7:18 pm

Sue, if you go to Yahoo, look under Groups and do a search for “teenlitauthors” – I think that should bring you to where you want to be with info on how to join. If that doesn’t work, tap me on the shoulder via email.

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Julie Ann Shapiro April 30, 2007 at 7:29 pm

My local writers group uses the Yahoo Groups. It helps us stay in touch and get feedback that’s all in one place.

I used to be much more active online workshopping stories and what not. A couple of years ago I just decided it was too much of a time drainer. I opted to workshop with various friends privately and chat on a sporatic basis online. In this way I can be tune in online when I need to but also stay more focused on my writing,job and outside in the community.

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lance reynald April 30, 2007 at 7:37 pm

hmm…
the notion of blog silence day leaves me a bit mute for all the wrong reasons…awestruck by the suggestion. Isn’t polite reverent silence where problems tend to stem from???
I think I’m in your tribe on this one Wondertwin…

ah, communities…
Litpark, TNB…
and somehow I have an ever-growing list of pen-pals. All of it helps keep the stride going… shoulders to cry on, encouragement to get through the rough patches. Contemporaries that speak the native tongue of writers.

I think we should all go to summer camp together; make lanyards, drink the bug juice, get some hickeys in the boathouse, shortsheet some beds, spin the bottle, lose the canoe…

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LaurenBaratz-Logsted April 30, 2007 at 9:18 pm

“lanyards”

Lance, I read this as a conflation of your names. I was thinking, “Lance wants us all to go to camp and procreate with him???”

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lance reynald April 30, 2007 at 9:33 pm

darnit….
LBL- are you gonna make me go and spell check that?

you know what I’m talking about…those plastic keychain thingys we made for Mom… The Blood Diamonds of Camp Wewonka….

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LaurenBaratz-Logsted May 1, 2007 at 6:02 am

You spelled it write, guy. You can’t help what my mind does with it!

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Robin Slick May 1, 2007 at 7:53 am

I think blog silence day was a matter of respect…like, think about the victims and not your own agenda but I could be wrong. In any event, I sort of honored it, but then again, I’m jet lagged and worn out from five days at the RT Book Convention in Houston so it was nice to take a day off and just reflect.

Anyway…

What a lovely tribute to Karen! I am really looking forward to being a part of the Backspace Community and could not believe that while in Houston, I looked over at the table next to mine and saw the name of Jackie Kessler, which was bizarre since I had just learned a day before I was serving on a panel with her at Backspace this month. I went over and introduced myself — she’s terrific!

I think writer workshops are wonderful for the novice writer. When I first joined Zoetrope in 2001, it was a life changing experience. But now, I prefer to just write. With Zoetrope, I think it was a matter of “trolls” joining the site and ruining it for me; also, most writers I’d admired since joining six years ago had stopped workshopping and reviewing their work and used the site more for social networking. I still do that myself, and have made brilliant friends with whom I now cavort in the real world as well (Susan, for one; Ellen Meister…the list is endless). But with a couple of novels out there and real world contacts, I find Zoetrope kind of a drag these days and only stop by one or two private offices to gossip/talk writing every now and then.

Anyway, can’t wait to read more about Karen tomorrow! We were both fiction editors at NFG a few years ago and still bear the scars to prove it. Kidding, kidding…about the scars. I still have open wounds.

Nah, I don’t. It was a blast and there’s nothing like editing the work of others to help your own writing.

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Jackie Kessler May 1, 2007 at 8:35 am

Karen is one of the most generous, giving people that I’ve ever met. Backspace would simply not be without her. HUZZAH FOR KAREN!!!

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Susan Henderson May 1, 2007 at 11:28 am

Lauren – I’m going to check it out AFTER I’ve done all my final edits for St. Martin’s. I’m glad to know it’s there and you’re in it.

Julie – Speaking of time-drainers, yesterday on The Publishing Spot, Jason Boog linked to Stephen Elliott’ month-long experiment of turning off the internet. Much to think about.

lance – Ooh, you just gave me an idea for Friday’s weekly wrap. I have to see if I can dig up a photo from patrol/Indian camp.

Robin – I know, absolutely, the day of silence was a day of mourning and respect. You have a giant heart, while mine was impatient about hearing you blog about the book convention.

Hey – and we’ll get to hang out with Karen in just a month. Maybe now’s a good time for me to ask what I’m meant to talk about on my panel. Oh, but why do it so early and ruin the spontaneity of talking off the cuff?!

Jackie – So glad to see you here!

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Karen Dionne May 1, 2007 at 11:50 am

I’m so glad you don’t mind the idea of speaking spontaneously, Sue, because that’s how your moderator handled a similar part at the Backspace conference last year. 🙂 The discussion was fabulous, and I bet yours will be too. See you all soon!

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Carolyn Burns Bass May 1, 2007 at 1:36 pm

Wonderful job of linking all the salutes to Karen into one great read. Even with all of the sleuthing Lauren and I did, we unintentionally missed several people who would have liked to add their voices in salute. This list could have been twice as long.

If it weren’t for Backspace and Karen, I wouldn’t have met Susan and found LitPark and all my wonderful friends who play here.

I’m a people person. Writing is a solitary activity. I work my other job from my home studio. Backspace has been like a virtual water cooler, the place I pop into when I need social interaction. Backspace is more than a social network for me, though. It’s also an online classroom with dozens of instructors and a supportive critique group.

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Tish Cohen May 1, 2007 at 3:58 pm

Susan, I forgot I’ll get to finally meet you at the Backspace conference. How very, very fun. Patry Francis and I are coming into town early to search for Ayelet Waldman’s favorite cupcakes and have a mini writers’ retreat to work on our new projects. Stop by our room–you’ll hear much keyboard clicking and cupcake swallowing.

xoxo

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Robin Slick May 1, 2007 at 4:43 pm

Wait…excuse me? Tish, you and Patry will be there, too? Yay!!! Are you staying at the Algonquin? I was going to stay at the W but if everyone is staying at the Algonquin, I’m changing my reservation. I refuse to let you have cupcakes without me. And how do you feel about an Indian Restaurant that makes the bread/samosa of your choice fresh while you are standing there? I think it’s a fair trade — you two teach me how to write the way you do, I will take you on a gourmet expedition of NYC, which, other than the music stores and great venues for live music, is what I do best in that city.

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Jason Boog May 1, 2007 at 5:04 pm

I love writing communities. I spend a good portion of my freelance writing career thinking and reading about these communities, and every day my respect for these amazing groups increases.

I will never, ever forget the day I finished a 50,000 word writing project with the National Novel Writing Month people. I had accomplished a draft of a novel, something that I never imagined I could write.

While I did the heavy lifting, it really really helped to have coffee with other NaNoWriMo writers and to visit a website with such a kind, supportive group of people. I love writing communities.

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Jody Reale May 2, 2007 at 12:06 am

Just when I think I’ve been everywhere on the Internet, someone like Susan reminds me that I’m still just a tourist. Thank goodness; I didn’t know anything about Backspace until now. (My only excuse is that I’ve always been more of a Delete kind of gal.) In any case, maybe I’ll see some of you kids there.

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Gail Siegel May 2, 2007 at 2:07 pm

Online: The Zoetrope workshop, and–earlier in my writing life–a place called Cafe-Blue, have both been tremendously helpful for me. I learned a lot about writing and made a number of important friendships (drum roll for Susan Henderson) and publishing connections in these spots. Litpark, of course, is a newer place for me–and I’m honored to have been here from the start. The Nervous Breakdown also intrigues me. Myspace is too big and unwieldy, though I visit now and then.

In Vivo: The Bennington writing seminars, where I attended for my MFA, brought a number of important people (both teachers and students) into my life and I still rely on them for wisdom and support. My writing group, which includes a number of Chicago-based playwrights, nonfiction writers and actors, has been central to my life as a writer and as a human being for the last 6 years.

Finally, attending the Sirenland conference in March introduced me to a small group of very talented fiction and nonfiction writers with whom I hope to maintain contact. Speaking of which, Dani Shapiro’s new novel, Black and White, is a great, fast read!

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Simon Haynes May 3, 2007 at 3:35 am

Good experiences. Critters helped me with a short story and the Online Writing Workshop helped give me the confidence I needed to finish my first novel.

I no longer participate in writing groups since my editor and first readers give me all the feedback I need. But if you’re starting out, find a group with more experience than you have yourself, and go for it.

Just like golf, really.

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Bruce Hoppe May 3, 2007 at 9:20 am

When I decided to move from newspaper reporting to writing fiction (which, according to some of the opinions offered by my readership on the op ed page, I had been doing all along) I needed feedback. Since I was living in sparsely populated rural New Mexico(there was one stoplight in the whole county) the chance of finding a local writers group was slim to none. I found Zoetrope online. I was green as a gourd. I had no idea there was this thing called a workshop. I thought a workshop was something that involve using a router. I joined Zoetrope and submitted and critiqued. At the time I needed to know if writing what I knew (the backwaters of the contemporary American heartland) could be done in such a way as to connect with a largely urban readership. The Zoetrope workshopping feedback told me that it was working. Now, as others have said, I rely more on a few key people with whom I’ve connected as a result of various writer interactions for craft honing. But I still do find the writing community a good thing to keep in touch with. But more as a way to keep one’s finger on the pulse of things. Still, at one stage of the game, the Zoetrope community was invaluable as a starting point.

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