I’m an online writer. Apart from a few print publications, I can only be read online. Sometimes I feel “online” is like a birth mark: can’t get rid of it. Follows you everywhere. Obscurely related to your gene pool. Not pretty perhaps but, in the right light, one might take it for a giant tick or for a smudge.
Of course “online” is not a smudge. It’s the dog’s bollocks, the bee’s knees of contemporary writing. It’s writing for billions out there, potentially. It means striking fear into the very heart of the publishing industry. It’s “occupy literature” before anyone thought of occupying anything anywhere.
That online community, however, is a tent settlement, albeit of unknown extension. It doesn’t really occupy anybody else’s space either: rather, it creates land where it needs more. A little like the Dutch people, who wrestled most of their land from the sea at no small a price. Though the modern Dutchmen, I hear, have plans to save the money for repairing their dams and will instead live in houses that shall float when the flood comes to fetch them.
Perhaps that is the future of online writing also: no more pioneering spirit of the wagon fort, sitting around a virtual camp fire sharing stories of the bravest tweet, the most daring Facebook thread or the latest Duotrope submission tracking tale, but life raft-like constructions that can come together when and where needed and that help writers survive and attach themselves to reading communities as readers can attach themselves to us. Futurology is all about the right metaphor.
“Goodreads,” I say to you, fellow online writers, and then I disappear in ‘Ulysses,’ which, in this case, is not a book by Joyce, but an app by German software engineers who like writers. There’s this dependency of course: not only the fear of the blank page (or the blank screen) but the fear that you might not have the best app on your iPad. That you might not have an iPad. That you might be as alone on the Internet as you are anywhere else.
Because, whatever the future of online communities might hold, whoever might be in it or not in it (anymore): the fact remains that writing happens inside your head first and last of all, as a dialogue between your many selves, a loner’s love. There’s no reason, of course, not to have a lot of fun with others along the way. Or, as in my case, connect with a multitude of writers outside of my Germanic exile.
My earliest published online (literary) work is also the earliest work I ever published: “Tickled Pink” at Metazen, in June 2009. My earliest online non-literary work dates back to 1989, when as a young physicist at CERN I worked with the group of people working with Tim Berners-Lee on the creation of the World Wide Web.