Intent, Hard Work, Common Ground...and Forward Motion
By Holly Lisle
Copyright © 2010, Holly Lisle, All Rights Reserved
Forward Motion didn't start by accident.
It wasn't a whim, or something I just fell into. By the time I made it to the internet in 1983 (via GEnie), I'd been involved in a writers' group for years, had written a newsletter for that writers' group for years, and had learned a fair amount about group dynamics.
I knew what made a good writers' group, and I'd learned from first-hand experience what could destroy it.
But online…I knew just about almost nothing about being online. The GEnie bulletin board was a magnificent, fascinating, and frequently flammable community. I made some good friends there, and discovered as well what truly incredible jerks some people could be when they got online and didn't have to face the people they were flaming. (Some, I suspect, would have been just as dreadful in person.)
But I spent almost two years between internet connections due to my life taking an abrupt, unmarked turn. When I made it back to the internet toward the end of 1986, GEnie was gone, SFFNet was picking up the pieces, and the rules had changed. Bulletin boards were on their way out, and the World Wide Web (or Wild Wild West, if you want the other meaning of that "www" at the beginning of web URLs) warming up, opening up, and blowing up, depending on where you went and who you met.
People had their own sites. I'd actually had my own personal site while I was offline, because Zette (your own Lazette Gifford) created one for me. It was about my books, and some people found it, and found me through it.
But I got space for another site as part of my SFFnet membership, and I thought this was cool, so I used THAT site to write about writing. I posted the articles I'd written over the years in my newsletter, added some new ones, and for good measure, posted my e-mail address so that folks who wanted to write to me could.
People wrote. They thanked me for the articles I'd written, and asked a lot of questions, so I answered their e-mails, and when I could, I wrote more articles to answer those questions publicly.
And then something fascinating happened. People started making free tools that you could use on your own website, or connect to through your website. And part of what you could add was bulletin board software.
I missed my writers' group. We were living in a place where I knew no one, and yet I had all these folks with whom I was corresponding about writing.
Suddenly, all those people who wanted to write and who were asking these good, fascinating questions could be introduced to each other through the simple means of sending them the link to the bulletin board I put up. They could talk not just to me, but to each other.
Forward Motion started slowly, shyly, and carefully…strangers wandering in, introducing themselves, waiting to see what other folks did. But the art of asking the good question brought the board to life, as asking a good question brings any situation to life. Someone asked, someone else answered, and before long, there were wonderful discussions about writing going on.
Which, people being people, brought in flames, politics, religion---and everything I'd learned about what makes writers' groups die came roaring back at me, and before this group of new friends could rip itself apart, I put up rules. They were the rules that I'd written to keep the first writers' group going, the rules I reworked a bit when a second group proved necessary.
There was some outrage.
"What do you mean, we can't flame each other! That's what people DO on the Internet!"
"What do you mean, I can't blast that guy about his stupid politics or his stupid religion? We have free speech! This is the Internet. We can say whatever we want, wherever we want!"
I got flamed for demanding rules, and in those days of primitive bulletin board controls, there was no way to remove flamers, troublemakers, and perpetual malcontents from the site.
So I borrowed a technique from an old religion, and simply requested of the non-troublemaking members that they shun trolls (trolls had not yet been named trolls by the Internet at large---that name came later. Back then, we just called them jerks).
Shunning, for folks who didn't grow up around the Amish, is pretending that people who fail to live up to your standards simply don't exist. You don't talk to them, you don't talk about them. They become invisible to you even if they are standing right in front of you, screaming at you.
The shunned either remember why they wanted to be a part of your community in the first place and correct their behavior, or they cease to exist.
Shunning is cold, it is harsh, it is difficult to keep up.
This technique required tremendous self-control from all the members, who could see the inflammatory posts sitting right there, but who were asked not to respond to them, or to the member who had written them, until the posts could be deleted.
Silence is tough. To maintain it, you have to remember WHY you're maintaining it.
The WHY, however, is what shaped Forward Motion.
By acting together to not respond to people who were trying to cause trouble or hurt individual members, we reinforced the fact that we had come together to write. We were a purpose-built community. We had a reason for being a part of Forward Motion, and that reason was our shared love of our common ground, which was writing.
We knew that we were from all stripes of religion and non-religion, most of which despised each other. We knew that we covered the gamut of political affiliations and political loathing. We knew we had within us the seeds that would destroy our common focus if we chose to pursue them.
So we chose not to pursue them.
We CHOSE not to pursue our own destruction.
We chose instead to hold true to what mattered most to us in that place, in that time. And what mattered most was writing.
We remembered that we had come together to teach and to learn the art, the craft, and the science of writing well. We had come together to share our love of words, our joy in language and our delight in the wondrous worlds our words and language could create. We came together to build something that mattered to each of us, and to ALL of us. And we chose not to see it destroyed by those who valued destruction more than creation.
That which is good does not happen by accident. It happens by hard work, by careful thought, by intent shaped into action.
Intent and hard work, and the value with which we held our common ground were the beginning of Forward Motion. They are the heart of Forward Motion as it exists today.
Forward Motion was one of my earliest dreams made real, and I am delighted that it still has its heart, and it still has its soul. You're here because you dare to dream, and because you dare to take action.
Write. Learn. Teach. Pay forward. Create something wonderful, make your life matter, and show the person following behind you how to dream, and how to make that dream real.
Write with joy.
December 28th, 2009