I wrote my first two (unpublished) books on my trusty Amstrad PCW using Locoscript. I was fairly late to the computer party in general and email in particular (1996) but the internet was still young. Google didn’t exist. Wikipedia wasn’t even a twinkle in its father’s kneecap. Back in those days if you wanted to talk to a random bunch of like-minded people, you went in search of a usenet newsgroup.
I found a couple of great writing groups on usenet, misc.writing and (later) rec.arts.sciencefiction.composition (r.a.sf.c.). The serious writers hanging out there gave me my first lessons in manuscript format and pointed me to the group FAQ which taught me how to submit stories. Hey, you don’t learn these things unless someone tells you. Since writing is generally a solitary occupation, you don’t know what you don’t know until someone points you in the right direction. I remain eternally grateful for those first lessons.
There’s a learning curve in the publishing world, or more likely a chain with links in it. Actual writing is only one part of it. Misc.writing taught me that I had to write, revise, polish, send it out, and while waiting for an answer, stick my derriere in the office chair, place my fingers on the keyboard and write some more. It’s still the best advice I can pass on to new writers
Every time someone posted a little self-congratulatory ‘I’ve finished a story’ post, someone else would say, ‘So what are you writing now?’
After being a very solid newsgroup with a small (tolerable) percentage of spam and hardly any flame-wars, eventually misc.writing began to be overtaken by trolls and a few of us writing speculative fiction found the rec.arts.sciencefiction newsgroups. Those who knew how, formed a new group for SF writers, rec.arts.sciencefiction.composition. If r.a.sf.c didn’t roll of the tongue as easily as misc.writing, it was still a great group full of interesting and knowledgeable people. (Though no one could ever decide how to pronounce it. I called it ras-fic, a friend called it ras-eff-see.)
It was through r.a.sf.c. that I joined my first online critique group. There were twenty of us to begin with and though numbers fell, about ten of us stuck together for eight years, helping each other to get better and better until some of us actually sold novels. I think the first of these was Jim Hetley who writes very fine fantasy fiction as both James A Hetley and James A Burton
I’d never have found Milford if it hadn’t been for ‘meeting’ Liz Holliday on r.a.sf.c., and without Milford I wouldn’t have found another link in the chain that eventually led to my publishing deals. I made good friends on usenet – and some of them are still friends, real world and virtual.
Some of the old misc.writing crowd have resurfaced as a facebook group twenty years on. Still the same bunch of good people.