Now lest someone get me wrong. I'm not against writer groups or workshops. There is a lot to be had from the notion of a peer review. A place where I can throw out my ideas and some of my prose to be playfully bashed or shaped and reformed. I just believe this should be in a place where I sit eye to eye with a comfortable understanding that this really is meant to assist each person present in honing their craft. It should also be a place where each person's qualification in the craft are visible for all to see so that I know whether I'm interacting with a peer or a mentor. It does make a difference if a peer makes an observation and it is validated by a mentor, in my decision to consider the thought or dismiss it out of hand.
There are many ways I have seen in which forums online can work toward undoing all the hard work I've put into building my craft. There are many ways that forums online create a falsely comfortable atmosphere while engendering disassociated sociopathic bullying. And forums employ all of these nasty ways in a most creative fashion.
There is no doubt that the need for online writers forum has been driven recently by the proliferation of self-publishing on the web. I am certain that the first response internet team was well meaning in its initial intent to do a good deed. There is truth to the saying that no good deed goes unpunished. It has taken little time for all sorts of writer forums to crop up. In my brief limited foray I sampled some dozen in my genre alone.
Who can start a forum? Well today almost anyone with internet access. There was a day when it took someone who was savvy about the computer the internet and some programing and lots of geek knowledge of linux. Now there are so many tools and free resources that a twelve or thirteen year old could start one.(That age group oddly and actually is valid with the savvy computer internet community I mentioned earlier.)
My experience is that most writer forums are started and administered by people who have not yet published but are hoping to publish soon after they get some help from their sites users. Very few- in fact only one of the twelve I sampled- have a qualified published author (advertised) on their 'staff'. Staff consists mostly of people whom the ADMIN has given admin privileges. I focus on the one with the 'qualified' professional. - with several books in publication the one I read was mediocre and violated many of the tenants taught in the forum.
The forums have rules:
These rules arise from way back in the age of slow modem bbs. Written at a time when they felt the only way to deal with what they considered rude people was to gang up and flame them causing a flame war resulting in chaos in that particular bbs. So, I've no problem understanding the need for rules to control that type of situation/behavior. The problem is that it does not control it as much as it puts that type of conduct (flaming) into the hands of the ADMIN teams, elite squad. So the first rule is that I must be civil in my correspondence online and civil is as is defined by the ADMIN. Or suffer being flamed by the ADMIN who will then bury the body.
Because the forum's all offer what they gladly proclaim is a benefit of the knowledge of its membership given freely at their own considerable expense. (In brain matter and time.) There arises another rule of necessity. Since it's common for the existence of transient membership (people who are looking for possibly some form of ghostwriting to enhance their work) who drop out after getting help and don't seem to contribute anything to the community. There are rules for a minimum number of posts to ongoing threads before I, a new person, may be allowed to post my own thread- for critique or assistance. Typically this can be 10 to 30 qualified comments in other people's threads. By qualified that's that the post must pass certain admin standards. It does not in any way imply or infer that I have to make qualified comments within my own knowledge. In fact I'm free to go way above and beyond my knowledge to offer any assistance I feel I can get away with.
The next important rule: the one for when I obtain the ability to post my own thread: is probably the most insidious yet justifiable because of the flame factor.
When I post I must keep in mind that these people are all taking time out of their busy lives and generously offering their valuable help to me- an assumed novice( who incidentally fleshed out 30 mandatory 'brilliant' critiques just to get here)- and I am prohibited from responding to any of their critique or otherwise noted helpfulness. (Unless to say thank you for the insightful response.)They explain there will be disciplinary action taken for any transgression. What is not explained is that if I am perceived as failing in this rule, the whole mass of anointed will descend upon me with flaming until I'm banned for starting the whole thing. ie; I lit the flame that caused their gasses to ignite.
This is the insidious part:
I now face a community of slightly definable noobs who are less than x posts old in the community. And a more undefinable quantity who are above that bar some to the tune of having thousands of posts. Having thousands of posts does not make them an expert writer but most of them think that it does. The recognized professional sometimes makes comments- but not that much.
So basically I am throwing my work to a vast number of people who haven't or can't publish their writing. These people are supposed to be helping me accomplish what they have not yet accomplished. And- they are hiding behind that clause that says they are taking their valuable time to help me and I should be so grateful to them. Keep my mouth shut unless I'm offering the help.
Now this is all not that bad because you have the same thing in a writers group/discussion /workshop. But you also have someone there to moderate and recognize when someone is way out of line. In a forum the moderator shows up much beyond the point when you ignited the flame.
And what could possibly bring this on:
Well on the lighter end there are the obvious OCD people.
I am Mr. punctuation I will never be happy there either is a lack of punctuation or too much- never enough. I cannot help the writer without tossing screen after screen of corrections. Filling in red and blue from top to bottom. Nor can I refrain from observing that I will not offer corrections at all with the grammar and spelling because I'm simply exhausted by the mass of incongruity in the punctuation.I am incapable of offering up perhaps two or three examples and trust that this writer- who obviously is incapable of judiciously applying punctuation- can complete the task.
I am the Grammar and Spelling gatekeeper. Not only will I find and destroy all relevant errors I will point out words which simply no one in their right mind uses today. I will not be satisfied until I've reduced the writers work to the level of drivel that any reader might understand without the need of an overrated and too heavy to carry dictionary. God forbid that the writer should interrupt the reader with a necessity to learn. And when I am finished though it may take three times the words that are allotted I shall have created the great American masterpiece and it shall be mine. But I shall liberally allow the writer to claim it for their own. Disregarding the fact that I probably belong in the GhostWriting threads.
I know that Spelling and Grammar and Punctuation are important enough for everyone to try to have these taken care of so they don't distract the rest of the knee jerk OCD responses. Still I should explain that I can not resist the urge to totally rewrite your work once its out there.
I am Character development. I am a gestalt of all my parts and get very disturbed if you separate me by too many words or god forbid across several paragraphs. Never tell of me- show me but please for gods sake show me all in the first paragraph so that everyone may know me within the first 20 words or so. Oh and while you are at it squeeze in some excitement and tension maybe a bit of conflict lest the reader think I'm too boring to bother with. It doesn't help if you spread me across the whole piece- then the reader will lose interest before getting to know me.
And once all the above have been broken and beaten several times and way beyond the scope of human understanding, I shall resort to reminding you that the reader does not have a mind of their own. We have trained them to only be comfortable with third person and past tense writing. If this writing so much as tries to deviate I will find so much wrong with it to make any writer sorry they ever thought they could put two words together.
Lastly-because the work must stand mute- because I have been so generous with my time and knowledge- I stand firm with the knowledge that I didn't even read this once through before I took the red pen to it. No I started at the very first sentence and with my brilliance I dissected this evil piece of garbage line by line. Knowing that even as each sentence that unfolded answered the questions I so brilliantly brought forth to display your misguided ignorance, I had no need to back-peddle because the light of my brilliance will be seen by all and none shall dare dispute what I say. I shall allow my light to be used to replace the dimmer glow of the wretched soul I condemned today and will so generously allow the author right to claim my brilliance as their own. --I.M. GhostWriter Egregious