There are a lot of people writing online fiction these days. And why not? Until recently anyone with the desire to write fiction had to suffer with a drawer full of unread manuscripts or a social network dotted with unreliable (if not patronizing) readers. Today you can easily find a writing community that shares your specific interests, and if you’re not a total jerk you can usually find someone who will give you honest and useful feedback.
But online communities — at least some of them — also provide another important resource for fiction writers, and that’s emotional support. Whatever you want to say about any given writer’s skill level, or the average skill level of all fiction writing on the web, the fact is that putting your work out there for others to see is a risk — and it should be a risk.
Unless you’re a pure artist — meaning someone who is creating without concern for audience reaction (which is doubly hard to do when you’re using the written word, which was literally invented for communication) — you intend the people who read your fiction to have a particular experience. And at some point you want to know if you created that experience or not. So you need other people to validate your work when it’s finished, and that certainly involves risk.
But there’s another problem that writers in particular have, as against, say, fine artists working with paint or marble. Because it’s not possible to comprehend a written work with one long studious gaze from across the room; because familiarity with a written work necessarily warps a sense of the work, even as it’s being written; because re-reading any text inevitably leads to a kind of blindness on the part of the reader — including, if not particularly, the author, writers desperately need a supportive environment in which to keep writing even though they feel functionally blind and certain that every single word they are writing is utter crap, if not an actionable crime against humanity.
Yes, at some point the work must stand on its own. But whether the work fails or succeeds, the writer needs to be able to get back on the horse and steer a new course for the next badly-mixed metaphor. One obvious answer is massive amounts of alcohol, but that has a few side effects which aren’t in vogue right now. The other answer is to get to know a few people who have been through what you’re going through.
Meaning anyone who ever tried to tell a story. And I mean anyone.