April 8, 1999, 1:29 a.m., I pressed the Enter key on my tired old keyboard and brought Writerspark to life. Eighteen hours later I posted our very first exercise:
Exercise #1: Write 100 words or less (story, essay or poem) which contains these elements — Thunder, watermelon seeds, a shred of cloth.
Why so much time between inception and that exercise? Simple, I had no clue what I wanted our group to be! – Not fully, anyway. I knew there should be exercises, but what kind(s)? I knew there should be writing submitted based on those exercises, but what type?
After puzzling over those questions for the better part of the day, I concluded that the exercises should be simple, based on simple elements; I knew the work submitted should be relatively short pieces, to make it easier for members to read and offer critiques; I also knew those pieces should be creative in nature (nothing academic or technical), which suggested poetry, short fiction and possibly even creative essays.
A few other elements of online group activity also needed to be addressed: Should I open the group to anyone who wanted to join? How closely should I moderate? Should membership be invitation only? Should there be participation requirements? What about rules?
The result of those latter questions was an open membership that required moderator (my) approval and a moderated period for all new members. Our “rules” were simple:
- No spam or sales pitches.
- No arguments or posts that in any way attacked or insulted the group or other members.
- Critique the work of others at least in balance with what you submit.
Today, with nearly 3,400 exercises behind us, that formula seems to have been the right one, at least for our group. Although I have had to make the difficult decision to remove a few members over the years for either spamming or attacking other members, it is a testament to the members we have attracted that during our 12 years in existence such incidents quite literally can be counted on one hand.
Other decisions came along over the years, one of which was whether to maintain our Yahoo presence of relocate to another group platform. Two such moves were attempted during those early years, each of which proved that despite Yahoo’s many shortcomings, the Yahoo platform seemed the best overall fit for what we do as a group. Sure, there are other venues that offer various bells and whistles that Yahoo doesn’t, but what Yahoo does offer is a stable, consistent foundation for group activities. So here we remain.
Over the years, Writerspark has dabbled in various word games and shared various creative swaps by mail (I still have the postcards and bookmarks above my desk). We’ve even had a few goes at collaborative stories that we called “Rotation Stories.” Although these activities were fun and helped to bring us even closer together as a group, we have never lost our fundamental focus on creative inspirations, meaningful critique and growth as writers.
Since my return a couple of months ago, I have worked to not only update our old off-Yahoo Web presence but have done so on a hosted server with our very own domain: www.writerspark.org. That has long been a goal of mine. In addition, I have launched Writersblog, a hosted WordPress based blog that will be devoted to various aspects of the writing craft. Writersblog is located at http://writerspark.org/blog/.
I will attempt to have something new posted to Writersblog at least on a weekly basis, and I invite you all to stop by, have a read and feel free to leave comments. I also invite you nose around both locations and offer suggestions. They are works in progress, and I’ll be adding and updating content as I learn more about WordPress and Web design.
We’re not a large group (as of this writing we have only 115 members), and that has been by design. Unlike today’s Facebook trend to collect hundreds of friends like they were baseball cards, my opinion has always been that a few active members is better than hundreds of lurkers or folks who take and never give. In my opinion, a relatively low number of active members make reading and offering quality critiques far more likely, the suggestions more substantive. After all, who could possibly offer anything meaningful on hundreds of submissions? This decision has likewise seemed to be the right one for our group.
While only a small percentage of our overall membership tends to be active, we manage to generate incredible work, offer insightful critiques and even toss in a debate or two along the way. Some of our members have been around from those very first days and never fail to make new arrivals feel welcome and worthwhile, no matter the new member’s skill level. Many of you are responsible for keeping Writerspark alive during my recent and lengthy absence. These things, more than anything else, are what make a group “successful.” Indeed, I count as the greatest success of Writerspark our ability to not only attract quality writers but quality individuals. It is what makes us more than an online group; it makes us a family.
I want to thank all of you for being the creative energy that has made Writerspark a source of ideas, meaningful insights, thoughtful interaction and friendship for the past twelve years. As always, if you have any ideas that might add to our usefulness or thoughts about what we are already doing, feel free to drop me a line.
© Bill Weiss, Writersblog – 2011