Sunday, February 14, 2010

A History of Writers on the Internet

Okay -- here's one writer's view of the history of the Internet.

Being a writer is a lonely job. You sit all day staring at a blank piece of paper or a computer screen and try to capture in words the scenes playing out in your head. So that others can read it and imagine the same scenes -- the same stories. To keep sane, writers talk to other writers -- for advice and support.

In the 1980s, I worked part time, and met with a critique group of people who wrote for children. I wrote newspaper articles on our electric typewriter. And then on our first computer, a Comodore 64.

When I returned to work full time (kids going to college), I could no longer attend the critique group - it was 45 minutes away. Another one was an hour away. But my husband discovered the FIDOnet computer bulletin board where he could talk antique cars to a car group and hooked me up with a writer's group. Mostly Science Fiction writers, a few storytellers, a musician, and several artists. Every evening a new packet of messages arrived at the local computer bulletin board. The next day we would telephone his computer, download the part of the messages we wanted to read, respond to them and upload our responses to the computer bulletin board. Believe it or not, those message packets traveled all around the world, from computer to computer overnight and back to the computer bulletin board in Maryland. Yes, there even were writers from Austrailia.

When FIDOnet died, I was invited by some Science Fiction writers to join GEnie. GEnie had been created by a group of Science Fiction writers who had negotiated the use of General Electric's computer system during the nighttime while GE was closed -- computer down time. Hurrah! One of the writer's groups on it was children's book writers. At this time we were still using dial-up to the computer, but instead of downloading packets of information, like FIDOnet, we wrote on an online bulletin board at the GEnie site.

Two years ago, I finally met Patricia Wrede in person -- a writer I'd been conversing with online since GEnie. She was so funny. She gave me a hug, but kept announcing to the people around us (mostly librarians) that she'd never met this person before. But that she has known me for over 15 years.

When GEnie died (GE decided they needed to use their computers 24 hours a day), one of the GEnie writers, who happened to be the local SCBWI RA, invited me to switch to the AOL writer's boards. She and the other local RA became co-authors with me of the Busy books. (over to your right, here) We mushed our names together to come up with the pen name of C.W. Bowie.

Then writers kept disappearing from the AOL boards and I discovered online Internet writer's groups, including a wonderful YAHOO Nonfiction Writer's group.

There you go -- the history of the Internet, as seen by one of its users.
-- wendieO


Anonymous said...

Ah, GEnie! Those were fun days. :)

Greg Pincus said...

Love this history! Thanks for sharing... and I can't help but wonder what you'll write 10 years hence.

Greg (who used to do the IM equivalent over the old Arpanet backbone way back when)

Wendie O said...

I remember hearing about the Arpanet, but never understood what it was. Good to hear from you. -wendieO

Karen Packard Rhodes said...

How neat that you got to meet Pat Wrede! I've missed her phosphors. A few of us from the old FIDO group have a small group going and we keep in touch via a mailing list.

Ah, those were the days.