Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net

Getting (Think) Tanked

By Jon Chaisson
©2004, Jon Chaisson


As a writer, sometimes I feel like I'm the only one around.  The odd guy out, parked in front of the computer at all hours, typing furiously away at my latest work in progress, yet somehow blissfully happy committing so many hours to this craft.  So many hours spent alone, curled up with a good book that just happens to be my own.  Kind of a morose way to look at writing, but sometimes it's like that when I'm particularly busy with a project.

And then there's the chat room on Friday nights.

Think Tank, a round table discussion featured in the Forward Motion Community chat rooms at various times on the weekend, is sometimes my only way of reaching out to the rest of the world from the comfort of my own.  Its current version, developed by sf writer Sheila Kelly (also known as S.L. Veihl, author of the Stardoc series), is like walking into a conference room with your writing peers who are all there to help you enhance your craft.  All one has to do to prepare for it is to have one question dealing with writing.  It can be anything from how to get my character out of a jam to asking what the others' favorite writing software might be.  Ten minutes later and you have more information (not to mention a handful of bon mots) than you know what to do with, all contributed by that night's participants.  It's an online chat session Dorothy Parker would be proud of.

When the deadline loomed over my head for this Vision article, I was stuck for ideas…I wasn't much of a short story writer, so I couldn't really work with that theme.  However, I did want to write something serious and relevant…and something where I wasn't referring to my present work in progress.  So a few weeks ago I joined a session and posed this question:  why do you come to Think Tank, and how does it help with your writing?

The most common reason my fellow writers gave me was the help and support of their fellow writers.  Nearly everyone said that the suggestions they receive are things they never would have thought of.  'Jumpstarting the muse' (as khazell1 put it) in directions that they wouldn’t expect, opening their story idea to different avenues that may be an even better path than the one they'd originally had.  Equally as important is perhaps not getting a complete answer but 'unblocking' the writer to find their own solution (as said by Barbara).  In the form of a Think Tank session, this informality is different from a critique in that one isn't actually critiquing a person's writing, but feeding it and moving it along.  As a writer, this is one of the most important things we have to deal with; an idea that goes nowhere is a story that falls flat immediately.

The reason most people stay with Think Tank is because of the camaraderie and the fact that helping other writers is as important as having them help you.  I personally try to make it to the Friday night edition because it's almost like going to a writer's session at the local bookstore.  I know all the people there, we all have a good sense of humor, and we all have a great time.  I know I'll get a serious answer from one person, a silly one from another, and plenty of other suggestions in between.  But in the end, I'll have at least a few nuggets of ideas to use for whatever project I may be working on.

The same goes with my suggestions for others.  We all do our best to come up with something workable for a fellow writer--it's almost a sickness, the way some writers are more than willing to hand over their two cents to another writer, but it's just the way we're all wired, I guess.  As writers, we've all read enough novels where we'd have made the plot go in a different direction that we're more than willing to 'inflict' it on other writers who haven't finished the story yet.  That isn't to say that's a bad thing; the writer has the last word anyway (pardon the pun).  But we're not greedy in our success, because we understand how difficult it is to get published.  Paying it forward is the only way we all survive.

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I didn't write this article to sing the praises of Think Tank, but to offer my own experiences with a writing circle that works for me.  Some may still want the experience of warm bodies sitting next to them, reading their rough drafts and offering critiques or suggestions, and some may prefer the online chats.  Still others may want a more involved bbs site where snippets are posted and extensive critiques are given.  I chose Think Tank because it's like a bunch of friends getting together at a local bar to talk shop.  Nothing is taken too seriously…that is, except for the suggestions that could possibly take my novel in precisely the direction I wanted it to go.

There are plenty of writing sites out there; it's just a matter of trying to find the one that's right for you.  I'd stayed at one site for nearly a year while I perfected my craft--that is, made myself take it a little more seriously--until I jumped over to the Forward Motion site.  Find one that you're comfortable with, and remember that you're not there for the long haul.  You have no commitments to this site other than that you're part of a community.  If you want help or critiques, be prepared to give as well as receive.  Soon you'll find out how friendly this field really is.  We're all here to help each other.  Other than that, remember to have fun!  There's nothing more important than keeping your love for writing alive by participating in its growth.

Like I said, pay it forward.  You'll get more than you bargained for.