A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
It used to be all you needed was a quill-pen, some paper and ink (possibly your own pile of bricks and mortar and a private income) and away you could go – penning a masterpiece for posterity.
Now, with writers blogging, Twittering, Facebooking etc, the image of the solitary writer is not quite as it was. It’s amazing most writers find the time and energy to write at all with all the distractions valid tools with which to gab on interface with readers.
One of the big rises in recent years has been the rise of the internet forum. There is the writing forum – where groups of writers – unpublished and published – congregate to try and negotiate the slings and arrows of the publishing industry. There are also reading forums – where readers obsessed with particular characters, books or periods of time get together to discuss their favourite books or characters. And there are mixtures of the two – where people avidly discuss their favourite books characters and then dash off a bit of fan fiction where they do various disgusting things to each other. (Those rumours about Spock and Kirk still haunt me.)
Whether your forum is 17th century literature or “John Donne 4 Eva”, the ebb and flow of your relationship with your forum will generally follow the same path. So, whether you are a forum novice or a bitter old hand, here are the stages your love affair will follow:
You encounter the forum for the first time. Where had it been all your life? You are soul-mates, lovers, you want to get married, have children. It’s only been three days but hell, you’ve never felt like this before. You walk around in a dream. No-one in real life understands you. They don’t care. You and your new forum can’t take your eyes off each other, or at least off the keyboard.
The Early Days
Things are still pretty hot between you. You and your forum are still full of energy and excitement. It’s the best thing ever. Your life will never be the same. You encourage everyone you know to join: friends, relations, complete strangers on the street.
You move in
Did you ever meet more supportive people? People who seem to care about your progress, with whom you can share the highs and lows? Real soul-mates who understand the unique tortures of the writing or submitting process? (Or the reading about 17th century literature process…) The relationship seems more level, grown-up, mature. You all know where you are headed and sit down together to draw up lists, share advice, plan for the future…
The cracks begin to show
Small habits start to annoy you. People say the same old things, some have their own agendas, the same old conversations. Threads go round and round without end. Like a irritating partner, you find yourself irrationally irritated by the smallest of things: mentions of The Rules perhaps, someone correcting your grammar. Tiny things start flame-wars of ridiculous proportions. Everyone is being insensitive, unsupportive, uncaring of your aims. No one knows you at all! They don’t care. How can they say that??? Again??? When they KNOW how you’ve been feeling lately…
And then –
The Breakup Groups and allegiances form, a huge fight comes out of nowhere like a twister, leading half the populace to be carried off in the whirlwind. Several people storm off in a huff. Scared of being left out you figure you’d better storm off too…
There are few things more embarrassing than storming off a forum. (And I should know, having farcically stormed off one particular forum a ridiculous number of times.) How do you do it for a start – in the absense of satisfying doors to slam and the ability to crash around sulkily (but being heard) for the rest of the day? On a forum, once you’re gone, you’re just gone. There is no way to remind people you are still lurking, hurt and angry unless you start doing embarrassing things like nipping back under the name “Account Closed” to remind them …
Nipping back under the name “Account Closed” to remind them.
Ok, not the best plan. It doesn’t look good and where will it stop? This can go on … and on … and on … until some kind friend/partner/psychotherapist persuades you it’s not the best course of action and locks you off the internet.
On a break
You try flirting a bit with other websites, the odd one night stand with “Andrew Marvell Rocks” but it isn’t the same. Then, one day, whilst browsing about, you find you come across your old favourite, your eyes meet over the menu browser and you feel you heart go thud.
You feel a bit self-conscious, particularly when you slink back through the backdoor trying to pretend that a couple of days before you weren’t flouncing off, slamming the metaphorical door behind you.
“Oh hello” you say, offering your views on plot structures and hoping no one will notice your low-key entrance as you slope in at the back and hang about with your hands in your pockets. What me? Storming off? Over, what was it again? Someone calling me a Literary Nazi, was it? Or was it low-brow populist commercial sell-out? Can’t remember now. Ha! Hey I’m cool, man, cool. Anyone want to discuss synopsi? No? Oh well then … What about a bit of Donne doing Marvell fanfic?
That’s more like it!
This will be the last Tuesday Alternative for a while.
*The beautiful picture of a Roman Forum is courtesey of Rickydavid on Flickr, reproduced under the Creative Commons license.