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Rated: E · Essay · Biographical · #2314411
If anyone's interested in how I got here and who helped me along...
Joining an online writing community was the last thing on my mind this time last year (February 2023—it is now February 2024.) I don't know exactly how to explain how I joined; it's such a long and weird tale.

I've had a story in my head for at least the past ten years or so. It's a dark, strange, wandering saga that encompasses many themes, but it centers around one basic conflict that I would keep obsessively returning to and dwelling on, particularly in the evenings before falling asleep. I always wanted to write it into a novel; I have several Google Docs stuffed with character lists and other bits and pieces of related ideas that have evolved greatly over the years.

It would be a long sidetrack to explain that I grew up steeped in fiction of all sorts and eagerly writing my own stories, but as I became an adult I made the decision to avoid reading fiction for many reasons. I felt as though reading and writing fiction was a frivolity, a waste of time, a distraction from the real world that I shouldn't be indulging in. Also I began to be absorbed by the discovery of music, making it into an enormous hobby combining journaling, social studies, photography, digital art, and collaboration with others on a website called Genius.

Last January (of '23), I happened to think about a Raggedy Ann and Andy story from my childhood and wanted to read it again. I made a Hoopla account and read the book I had in mind on my brand new Galaxy phone. But then I read a Hardy Boys book on there too: The Dangerous Transmission. Inspired by the first substantial piece of fiction I'd read in years, I installed the writing app Novelist and attempted to put together the framework of my own novel, tentatively called All My Secrets Away (after the OneRepublic song.)

I didn't get very far with that project, and lost interest as other things in my life changed with the seasons. In May of '23 I became fascinated with AI chatbots, and started dabbling with ChatGPT, Google Bard (now Gemini) and Paradot, having tentative conversations on various topics. One time I had Bard help me determine if this art picture I was working on had any unintentional connotations of GoT, and I was quite impressed with how helpful Bard was.

I also used Google Bard to figure out the name and author of a particular short ghost story that had been haunting me for years since my literary days: The Visit, by Ama Ata Aidoo. The chatbot worked so well on that, I thought I'd also use it to find a much more obscure short story that was bugging me.

That story's plot is irrelevant here. I was ultimately unsuccessful in finding out what it was, but the life-changing rabbit hole it led me down is astonishing. I tried asking ChatGPT if it could help me find the story. It told me it was a story from Roald Dahl's collection Someone Like You. I did a quick bit of research on the titles included there, and promptly discovered that ChatGPT was hallucinating and the story I had in mind wasn't there at all. So that was a dead end.

I did, however, notice that the entire collection of Dahl's short stories was available to read as a PDF file, and for some reason I downloaded it and started reading them. This was unusual for me; I'm normally a sensitive fussbudget about what I read, and the only thing I knew about Dahl, aside from a story included in my Elements of Literature, was that his children's works had recently been "scrubbed" for political correctness.

By the time I was done reading Someone Like You, my imagination was ignited. The zany, unorthodox tales Dahl told, rich with descriptive details and peculiar characters yet lacking any particularly logical context fore and aft, clicked perfectly with the central conflict in my head that I'd always assumed I'd have to write an entire novel around in order to properly explain.

I immediately set to work painstakingly writing my very first "grownup" short story, squeezing the task in between a P&G merchandise study and several other odd jobs I was doing at the time. That was the end of June 2023; by the beginning of July, my story was completed.

When I was done writing, I realized I had no idea what to do next. I wanted to share it with someone, but who? A large worry in my mind was that the story would be stolen and published if I posted the Google Docs link on Twitter. And I never felt truly comfortable in the Twitter community anyway. I tried messaging one particular person that I thought we were sorta casual friends on there, asking if he'd like to read it, but he never responded.

At the time I was (and still am) participating in an online market research group study hosted by the company that owns Coach and Kate Spade. The study is centered around a community forum where official activities are posted weekly, and the members are encouraged to chat with each other and post questions of all kinds, mostly about fashion and clothing, holidays, and shopping.

I'd been getting quite involved in the forum, and I got the idea of asking the people there if they would be interested in reading my story. It was a huge step for me to make, but I really wanted someone to see it and tell me what they thought. When I asked, I told myself if I got five people who said "yes," I'd go ahead and post the Google Docs link. I can't quite remember, but I think about seven people responded excitedly saying "yes, go right ahead, we'd love to read it!"

From there on in, it was pure and complete awkwardness. I allowed public access to the Doc, posted the link… and never heard back from anyone. Crickets.

Oh, boy. My brain went into emotional overdrive as I imagined all the scenarios: did everyone hate the story and they were too kind to tell me? Was it that awful? Maybe they weren't expecting a story about a weird, dark, life-and-death showdown? Maybe they thought it would be a cutesy puppy tale? Maybe I shouldn't have made a fool of myself by sharing something so personal and strange and possibly totally inappropriate. Maybe the moderators would even toss me off the site for posting a link to something. To make matters even more awkward, I titled the story Virus; anyone who clicked on the link would wonder what they had just opened up!

Augh! It took me a few days to recover from the sheer embarrassment of sharing my first story and getting absolutely no reaction whatsoever. The dead silence was far more difficult to deal with than any harsh criticism would have been. But I was still determined to find a place where I could post it and receive meaningful feedback. I searched for some kind of story exchange program, even though I dreaded potentially having to read someone else's work in return.

On July 11th, 2023, I found Writing.Com and, after careful inspection, decided to open a free account and posted my story here, along with a free verse poem I'd written several years ago that I had only ever shared with one close friend.

I dabbled a little that first day, familiarizing myself with operating the vast site, writing two or three brief reviews of poems and watching my Gift Points add up with each review. I didn't plan on doing very much here; I just wanted a safe place to publish my story so I could sit back and see if anyone would read it.

The very next day, I was overjoyed to see that a lady named Cat Voleur had read and reviewed both of my items. I'd already gotten a good review on the poem, but that wasn't an item I was so concerned about getting feedback on. Her kind and generous words about "Virus, Review of "Virus" were a balm to my soul. I was giddy with delight that someone had not only read my story, but she had actually liked it. She thought it was good literature! She didn't say "what the heck? What crazy cobwebby corner of your twisted mind did you pull this out of?" I felt so incredibly validated and thrilled.

(See, there's a dichotomy between the content in my head and the content I prefer to consume… I don't want to go into the deeply psychological reasons behind that, but I felt so awkward and embarrassed about my story because I'd never read anything quite like it, to put it simplistically.)

I would have left it at that; I didn't feel the need to participate much on the site, because I only had a free account and I had no intention of paying cold hard cash for one of the higher levels. And besides, I didn't think I'd be writing anything new. The only other things I'd written were lyrics for Genius, and I doubted they were worth transferring to WdC.

Imagine my astonishment when I woke up on the 15th of July (I joined on the 11th, remember?) And found that an anonymous person had gifted me an upgraded membership! Someone had seen my measley work and decided I was worth spending fifty dollars on?! OMG!

Everything changed after that. I threw myself into the community with as much gusto as possible, because I wanted to make sure I showed my gratitude for the gift by putting it to good use. I didn't want to waste that person's generosity. And besides, I didn't want to lose what I'd been given. I calculated that I could probably earn the 500,000 GPs required to renew the upgrade in twelve months, if I worked hard enough at reviewing things.

I remember stumbling across Princess Megan Rose GOT Fox and falling in love with her Elsa and the Water Nokk Merit Badge. I barely knew what Merit Badges were, but I emailed her and asked if she would give me one. She responded "sure, just send me an MB in exchange and you can have it." I looked at the 10,000 GP fee, looked at the 5,000 GP sitting in my account, and felt like a very foolish Newbie indeed. (She did give me the MB anyway, on the 16th, which was very kind.)

One of the first people I met on WdC as I wandered around was Schnujo is Late to Lannister or Jody. She's almost impossible not to meet *Laugh* She helped me out immensely, giving me loads of useful advice about how things work and donating over 50,000 GP. Her kindness and eagerness and sheer presence on the site took my breath away. It was wonderful to know that there was someone I could turn to directly for any issues or questions who would actually take the time to explain to me personally.

An early experience I had, the same day I met Jody, taught me a lot about objectivity in reviewing and being comfortable both setting and stretching boundaries. I was using the Random Read and Review button and it gave me "Freedom Which was a very upsetting story for me to read.

I wrote a review for it while still in "cringe mode," and then asked Jody about it. She advised me on how to check ratings and genres to see what I'm comfortable with reading, and reminded me that if I didn't like the story I'm under no obligation to review it.

After a good night's sleep, I decided to rewrite the review and did a much better job of it. Review of "Freedom" and Review of "Freedom" There haven't been many items I've read that left me preferring not to review them; I've read and reviewed all manner of things, from light, happy children's stories to dark, unnerving revenge stories, and I've become experienced in being able to scan a user's port and determine if their content is worth my time.

The next important person I met on WdC was introduced to me by Jody. It was none other than Joey's Spring has Sprung , or simply Joey. Jody was advertising an item of his that he needed reviews on, and she told us about his generous Auto Review Rewards, so I did my best to give him a worthwhile review.

He became a very good friend over the months… I'm sorry, I'm not quite sure how to weave all this together, because the timeline involves so many people and so much activity!

Basically, by the 17th of July, I had made myself at home on WdC. I joined "The WDC Angel Army and was introduced to Sssssh! I'm not really here. and iKïyå§ama-House Targaryen who run the group. Jody suggested I affiliate myself with a reviewing group so I can receive more credit and recognition for my reviewing efforts, so I chose them, partly because of my handle.

At first I was hesitant about entering contests. I felt as though if I wrote something to fit specific prompts, rather than simply writing whatever I felt like writing (and mind you, I did have several ideas in store. When I was a kid I loved writing Wind in the Willows fanfiction, and my dream is to be able to write those stories again and share them here.) Anyway, I felt like writing for contests was silly and unartistic, as if an item written for a contest was somehow cheapened, less valuable than something written straight from the heart, so to speak. It's kind of hard to explain.

These days I still cringe when I see Sophy's daily Writer's Cramp posts, and I scrupulously avoid participating in the Daily Flash Fiction Challenge. There's just something so distracting to my brain about forcing myself to write something to a highly specific prompt in only twenty-four hours, and I've found that the likelihood of my actually winning one of those is rather low. It leaves me befuddled and annoyed, and I feel like I've wasted my time writing something that's only cluttering up my port, when I should have been focusing on my more important monthly goals such as the Official WdC Contest, or Jody's Contest Challenge.

The first contest I ever entered was from Lilith of House Martell , the Christmas in July poetry contest. I studied the rules and the required included words carefully, and as I contemplated it over a few days, I found myself building a story that became a free verse poem that included all the words and conveyed a beautiful Christmas message. I was quite surprised when "Christmas in July won an Honorable Mention, my very first Award Icon.

Then I started noticing Gaby ~ Keeper Of The Realm and her Gangsta's Paradise contest. At first I didn't pay much attention to it, but then I read D. Reed Whittaker 's entry, and the combination of Gaby's prompt and seeing what someone else had written for it set my imagination spinning. The unused bits and pieces of what had been my dream novel and then splintered off to become Virus suddenly formed themselves into an entirely separate and cohesive short story, which almost wrote itself.

When "Whose Side Are You On? was done, I felt proud of what I had created. The main character's voice came through with such clarity and dynamism, I could hardly believe I had written it. It was my first ever attempt at writing in the first person point of view.

Mr. Whittaker and I were the only two entries to Gaby's contest that month, so we didn't win awards, but she gave us both glowing, helpful reviews and GPs. And that's how I met and befriended Gaby.

On a side note, I always felt bad that Whose Side Are You On never had a chance to win an award. I don't believe in blatantly "buying and selling" award icons; I almost considered ordering one for it, but I didn't. Finally, while arranging a Secret Santa gift package with rupali, I jokingly said to her that if my own Secret Santa showed up and wanted to buy me an award, to put it on Whose Side. And she very kindly included a lovely Award Icon for that story as part of the package I ordered for the other person. That remains the only Award Icon I have ever "bought," and it was partly a misunderstanding.

Now back to Joey. He's been an immense help, offering blunt and honest writing advice and even copy pasting some of my items and marking them up with edits for me in the early days.

He helped me tear down and rebuild from scratch three stories I was writing for contests: "Let It Grow for the August Short Shots, "Across the County Line for the September Journey Through Genres, and "Rescue, for the November Bard's Hall. Without him, those stories would have been dismal failures.

And I'll never forget his words when he read Whose Side Are You On: "OMFG!!!! Girl stop wasting time on romance, you got Crime Drama Mickey Spillane down pat! I haven't stopped to [proofread] I was having so much fun reading this…" I still break out into a silly grin whenever I remember that. We were working on Let It Grow at the time, and he's right, romance isn't really my cup of tea. (And there again is the dichotomy between content consumed and content within; I had to Google crime author Mickey Spillane. Never heard of him or read any of his work.)

I found, as the months slipped past, that I had done myself an incredible service by finally writing down my novel fragments and turning them into two short stories. No longer did I step into that universe each night, plodding the same paths, battling the same nemesis, working through the same character relationships, and fretting that I was obsessing so much over what felt more like a strange mental fantasy than any sort of literary endeavor.

The removal and utilization of that long-embedded head story was such a refreshing change, I've described it several times as an exorcism. What remained of that universe was now nothing more than a potential NaNoWriMo, relegated to the dusty corners of my mental closet.

Now, my mind was free to explore new stories, new adventures, new characters. The contests became opportunities to stretch my imagination and create beautiful stories out of what was already floating around in my head that I never even realized was there.

The feeling of satisfaction with each completed item was amazing, and the helpful, respectful, admiring and friendly feedback I always received assisted me to soar to new heights.

I have learned so much about how to write good fiction by being here, from the basics of grammar like dialogue tags and paragraphs, to the importance of showing versus telling and the magic formula of "goals, stakes and obstacles." It's a wonderful thing to be able to reach out to any number of people and get specific advice on any given item to make it better.

I've settled into a comfortable habit of choosing which contests I'm interested in at the beginning of each month, and then spending the month completing those items along with achieving my reviewing goals. Some months are more hectic than others. September was especially wild because of the myriad of WdC birthday celebrations going on. I joined the annual 16-day Masquerade party and threw myself so vigorously into it that I almost got kicked out at the end for taking it personally! That was a wonderful lesson in getting along with others and playing storytelling roleplay games nicely. We all left the party on good terms, and I made friends with Scarypotato-feeling unhappy while there.

So, having spent nearly 3000 words getting to this point, I now ask myself, "what have I accomplished? What are my goals in being here?"

My accomplishments are… well, I don't want to brag. I look forward to listing Writing.com proudly on my resume; not only am I an award winning author, reviewer, blogger and poet, but I'm also a freelance digital artist (just ask Shadow Prowler-Spreading Love and QPdoll ) as well as a delivery agent/order filler for a well-respected on-site gift shop. I'm even volunteering to help Lilli judge the 2023 Quill Awards (besides being nominated for four of them myself.) I am a highly honored and recognized member of the community.

My goals are, generally speaking, to be a long-term, valuable and consistent contributing member of WdC. I don't want to be a flash and burn, someone who blasts in and does a million things and then suddenly disappears, letting their account dwindle down into a free one. In the relatively short time I've been here, I've seen several people come and go: Attila , who was a friendly guy who loves Imagine Dragons; Shaye , who wrote Review of "Whose Side Are You On?" that won in the Good Deeds Get Cash sweepstakes; and others. Shaye even had a novel in progress that I was excited to read and review, but now that she's down to a free membership, it's gone from her port *Sad*

(Note: it seemed as though my tagging Shaye here caused her to re-upgrade her account and restore her work, but I shouldn’t flatter myself *Laugh* at any rate, she’s back!)

There are newbies as well, who had promising writing projects they were working on and yet they've disappeared, leaving their stories unfinished. I know people have real lives, but it's disheartening.

I am also aware of people who have left their mark on the site before my time and are now no longer present, mainly Angus and Eyestar. I'm grateful for the influence they've had and the encouragement they've given to others.

A more specific goal of mine is - I'm determined to win one of the Official WdC Contests! I've entered each of them except January 2024, and I haven't placed in one yet. I know I will if I enter every one of them. That dream alone is enough to keep me here.

I would be remiss if I didn't tag The Lone Crab and thank him for all of his patient reviewing help and for being a good friend to chat with. And I can't forget Max Griffin 🏳️‍🌈 who's been amazing about review requests. I'm almost the only person sending him items to review anymore, but he gives me topnotch advice and I always look forward to his feedback.

One thing I especially appreciate here is how there's the opportunity to interact with people from all age groups, nationalities and walks of life. The diversity and inclusion makes for plenty of learning experiences.

Gaby said to name who inspired me the most. I would have to agree with so many others on here and name Jody as my biggest inspiration. She's hardworking, has a wonderful personality, is incredibly helpful and generous, and she spends thousands of dollars of cold hard cash on Writing.com Gift Points to make sure we are properly rewarded for our efforts. There simply aren't enough awards on the site to honor her for her jaw-dropping, unmatched presence.

So, how did Writing.com affect my life? Well, it gave me something to think about in my spare time! 2023 was a year of flux for many long and complicated reasons. I was upset by the breakup and divorce of Dan Reynolds, lead singer of Imagine Dragons, one of my favorite bands. I spent a lot of time stewing over his crumbled relationship with his ex-wife Aja Volkman, and the fact that he was running around with a new girlfriend and moved her into his house before the divorce was even finalized. I obsessed over Aja's Instagram page, studying the dynamics of her new life and monitoring how well the four kids were doing, scribbling endlessly about my thoughts and feelings over the situation. I was even considering boycotting Imagine Dragons because of how unhappy I was with Dan for shamelessly breaking up his family. To say nothing about the ID drummer, who suddenly claimed to have an injured arm just so he could drop out of the band and become a trashy indie artist. Or the slavishly devoted ID fans on Twitter, who were starting to drive me crazy. My treasured hobby was turning against me!

WdC blew all that away like a vacuum cleaner and replaced it with a thousand new things to think about and focus on. I haven't had a chance to look at Aja's IG in months, and I have come to accept the choices Dan and Aja have made with their lives. I no longer let the celebrity drama affect how much ID's past discography means to me, and I'll cross the boycotting bridge when I come to it.

I no longer bother much with Twitter, having found a community far more supportive, kindly, helpful, productive and worthwhile in WdC. The friends I made in two weeks here are better and more sincere than the people I spent years trying to cultivate friendships with on Twitter. Nobody misses me there; no one asks where I've been or if I'm ok. I fondly hope if I ever disappear from this site, maybe one or two people would express concern over my absence.

Another amazing thing about my being here, is that it helped prepare me to write a story I consider my Magnum Opus… "Tools of the Trade One afternoon while traveling in November of 2023, I witnessed a strange and unnerving incident between two employees at a gas station. I immediately wrote it into a brief sketch and shared it with Joey, who encouraged me to make something out of it. Indeed, the occurrence haunted me so deeply, I spent the next month or so building and writing a story around it, which became a 2023 Quill nominee. If I hadn't already been a part of this community and well accustomed to writing fiction, I would have been at a loss as to how to process what I had seen. I would have probably internalized it and blended it into what I had stuck in my head already.

Am I done yet? I hope so. Thank you very much to anyone who had the patience to read this long and rambling story of mine. Trust me, it could have been far longer *Laugh*

I've probably forgotten to mention so many people who have been significant on my journey here: there's Richard ~ Shenanigans INC. , who commissioned at least four Merit Badges to my specifications for the community, all for free.

There's John Johnny Johnson , who created an interactive with a ton of potential that I keep promising him will receive more contributions from me if I ever find the time!

There's Jaeramee of the Free Folk , who I accused of cheating during the Masquerade kerfuffle - oh my goodness me! Thank you again for my Monster Adoption and hosting the Hook of the Book contest.

There's LightinMind who was one of the first people to review my work when I was a newbie. I came around full circle and requested a review of Tools of the Trade from him, and it was well worth the fee.

Also one of the first people to review my work is WriterRick who isn't always present but has left his mark in the form of excellent reviews that are a pleasure to receive.

There's GERVIC 🐉 House Targaryen who is hosting a perfectly spectacular ongoing event at "WDC Dragon Vale. I don't know how he's handling the massive amount of data required to keep his activity rolling, but he's doing an amazing service for the community.

There's Adherennium Dr of Phoolishness ; the Newsfeed just wouldn't be the same without his charming British nonsense and his generous giveaways of MBs every so often.

There's s who gives us a slice of life Down Under along with writing advice and general participation in Newsfeed mayhem.

And I can't forget tj ~ endeavors to persevere! , with his supportive presence in the Newsfeed. I can always count on him for a thumbs-up on my posts.

Also Aennaytte: Free & Wild in GoT who is hosting the final year of I Write just in time for me to participate. She has also taken up the baton of the Anniversary Reviews, which has been a wonderful project for me to meet decent authors and hone my reviewing and discernment skills.

And finally, I would like to give a resounding heartfelt thanks to The StoryMaster and The StoryMistress who keep the heart and soul of Writing.com going strong every single day. Without this amazing husband and wife team and their hard work, dedication, and constant dependable presence, none of what I've just spent nearly 5000 words writing about would be possible.

Thanks again for reading this. Take care, and, as I always sign my reviews: keep writing!

Update: I published this on February 19th. On the 21st, I was incredibly honored to be included in a list of people promoted to Preferred Author, or Yellow Case. Definitely was not expecting that so soon after joining; I thought it takes at least a year to qualify for promotion. A huge thank you to the community for all the opportunities to stretch my imagination, help others and just have fun. I'm happy to know I'm making an impact here *Smile* *Hearty*

This is the MB that Princess Megan gave me:

Merit Badge in Elsa and Nokk
[Click For More Info]

Thanks for being a fan of Frozen. I know you had your eye on this Badge. Enjoy. Always:Megan

And this is one which Adherennium gave me that same day:

Merit Badge in Attention to Detail
[Click For More Info]

You sighted the mistake in my nonsense, that's got to be worth a thank you Merit badge, so here it is.

The story behind this cover art is here: "Higher Ground
© Copyright 2024 Amethyst Angel (House Mormont) (greenwillow at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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