There’s a rich, rather romantic, literary tradition of writers gathering together to support, encourage, and inspire each other. It extends from Mary Shelley composing Frankenstein to win a scary story contest with Lord Byron and her husband Percy to the jazz age circle of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Dorothy Parker, and from the Bloomsbury Group led by E.M. Forster and Virginia Woolf to the Beat Generation of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William S. Burroughs.
The digital age has changed this tradition, but, arguably, it hasn’t diminished it, even if the setting has changed from a smoke-filled Parisian salon to an online writers’ workshop.
Going digital has only increased the power of these groups, giving writers the chance to meet in person and face-to-face whenever they care to. This virtual comradery can become a powerful weapon against the self-doubt and isolation of a solitary occupation like writing. Even–maybe especially–the youngest writers can gain confidence by meeting like-minded souls online.
Literary Inspiration with Skype
For the past five years, students at Oxford Elementary School in Maine have been enjoying Skype video calls with their favorite authors. While the recurring meetings were intended to inspire the children to become more engaged in reading and writing, their teachers noticed something else was occurring. The students began to use the virtual connections to discuss their own self-doubts about writing, expressing themselves, and receiving criticism. The face-to-face nature of the meetings seems to have inspired trust and helped create a human relationship out of what could have been little more than a guest lecture.
That’s exactly the kind of intimacy and support adults are searching for when they set up online writers’ workshops. Sites like the award-winning Critique Circle, Absolute Write, and BookRix offer open forums where writers can share their work, read the work of others, and generally chat about everything from conquering writer’s block to finding an agent.
But you don’t have to join those sites, which tend toward the drab and low-tech. You can create your own writers’ workshop using video conferencing, and build the kind of trusting network those elementary students found.
Build Your Own Online Writers’ Workshop
The internet is a tool. For all its 136 billion pages of information, its greatest function may be the ability to bring together any two people across the globe in a face-to-face conversation using video calling. That power to bridge any distance means we can bond over any shared interest, so long as we know how to find each other.
VC Daily has previously written about using that power to establish social communities across a number of endeavors, from remote cooking classes and virtual book clubs to online breastfeeding and grief support groups.
In each case, video calling technology provides the meeting place and the group’s members provide the structure. It’s as easy to set up as a Friday night get-together. Here are the basics:
- Use an existing forum like the ones listed above to advertise your group
- Sign in to a customizable video calling platform, like Appear.In
- Furnish that room to your liking with images, media, and external links
- Email an invitation with an agreed-upon meeting time
- Meet face-to-face online and let the conversation begin
I’ve chosen Appear.In because a group video chat can be set up in seconds, and the chat room can be altered to suit individual needs. However, you can easily use a slightly less flexible free service like Skype. Alternatively, if everyone in the group is willing to part with a few dollars a month, you could use a subscription service that comes with tech support, scalability to accommodate potentially hundreds of video callers, and a higher standard of stability.
Now you and your newfound group of writer friends are free to call on each other wherever and whenever you like.
A Bloomsbury Group Online
Don’t dismiss the “whenever” section of that last sentence. This group has the ability to offer you support and get you through those dark times when the self-doubt and solitude of the writing process gets you down. If you use a video calling service that comes with a signal feature, like Airtime, you can even send out your own distress call (like a writerly Bat-Signal) any time of day or night and see who’s available to meet you in the video chat room right now.
That’s something Virginia Woolf and her Bloomsbury group couldn’t do. If she’d had access to instant video calling, would Virginia have written so many letters to her peers?
Your digital group can also exchange files in an instant by placing them in the chat windows (most video calling apps have text chat capabilities as standard). So, you can share your current predicament with your friends in real-time, and you can talk them through your latest draft in real-time, too.
The dynamic nature of video calling means your group can be a structured, weekly exchange of ideas on a set topic, a regular showcase for developing work, or a 24/7 hotline.
A writer’s life is necessarily one of solitude. Video conferencing can create an online resource for inspiration and support that’s available every time you raise your head up out of your work.