Swimming with the Snarks

A couple of months ago, I joined a FaceBook writers group with thousands of members. I hoped to find helpful input, guidance and handy tips from others in the biz. What I got instead was drama. Every post I saw, no matter how innocuous or innocent the question, drew dozens of trolls whose main purpose seemed to be to offend as many people as possible on the thread. Granted, with that many members, it would be impossible to moderate adequately to keep all the trash out. But sheesh! What is the point of trying to snark another person into oblivion when they are there for ostensibly similar reasons as the snarker?

I followed it from the sidelines for over a month. Maybe two. I kept thinking maybe it was only a short-term thing, that the list would revert to its “normal helpful state” once the jerks got bored. But no. I found myself wading through 20 or 30 comments of rude or downright mean BS in order to find one helpful tip.

Let me be clear. I don’t speak snark. I don’t see the value in snark. My life has no room for snark. I have no problem telling someone if they’ve upset or offended me, but that is not the same thing. After that long with no clear change in the atmosphere, I finally bid the list adieu. I did make a comment (I know – stupid of me) that I was leaving in search of a writers group without all the drama, which I don’t need. For a week after I left the list, Facebook continued to send me the comments of other posters in response to my farewell note.

And each one’s tone? Yep, you guessed it. It was like a grade-school sandbox where the bullies were running the show. Who needs that?

As it happens, one of the other list members who was also tired of the puerile posts created his own writers group, and invited me to join. So I did. Already, I’m getting useful information every day. Because that’s the point of networking with other writers, isn’t it? To offer support and feedback? Advice and encouragement? It certainly seems to me like a more useful goal than tearing each other down, setting out to embarrass or humiliate the others, or to lord one’s own experience over a newcomer.

In Hampton Roads, where I live, there are several writers’ groups: Hampton Roads Writers and The Muse Writers’ Center. Both are oriented toward helping writers learn and improve their craft. HRW hosts “Show and Grow” events where writers can read excerpts and receive critiques, as well as classes, workshops and an annual conference (see my blog post in late September). The Muse Center has a regular physical space where they host gatherings, classes of all kinds, open readings, and more. They also host writers’ happy hours at various locations near their site so that we who are crazy enough to pen our thoughts in creative prose of one form or another might network and find others of like mind.

That is the type of support writers need. That’s why we seek out the company of other writers and creative people. And sometimes, we find each other in the darnedest, most unexpected places, as if we are drawn to one another by the muses in our heads.

A couple of weekends ago, I was gifted with contributions toward purchasing a new laptop and met young Phillippe, the sales clerk who assisted me at the Apple store. He was as nice as he could be, and I was already enjoying his company when I mentioned in passing that I am a writer. He was immediately intrigued and wanted to know more. I obliged (what writer wouldn’t?) and he confessed that he’d often thought of writing the story of his life as a fictionalized tale. Bobby and I strongly both encouraged him to do so, told him he’d never know if he could do it unless he tried. I told him about the local resources, and watched the look of excitement spread over his face at the thought of pursuing this dream. I admit to thinking how much farther along in this career I’d be by now if I too had started at twenty, like I wanted to. It felt really good to encourage him, to see his eagerness, and to wonder later if he would actually go after it.

I’m one of the first people to say that as widely differing individuals, we should try to find common ground if we want to understand one another. And I’m not sorry I joined that first Facebook writers group. It served as a reminder of the fact that there are apparently people out there who speak only snark. But I have no desire to visit snark city on purpose. The world has too much unavoidable ugliness already without choosing a forum whose atmosphere gags me with it every time I visit.

2 Replies to “Swimming with the Snarks”

  1. I don’t know if you’ve already tried, but I’d recommend some of the smaller groups on Goodreads, especially those specifically focused on your writing interests. I chose just two or three to begin with and introduced myself by offering free reviews of books, with links to earlier reviews on my blog so they could see what they’d be getting. I was swamped with books for a full year, but not only did I feel I was doing something valuable for other writers, but in the process I got a lot more skilled at writing reviews, using images, and maintaining a blog.

    I got to know over twenty fellow writers fairly well in the process of give-and-take involved in my reviewing their books. We communicated via email, and often by phone. In a couple of cases, I have had the lovely experience of meeting them in person. From all of them, I learned something valuable about writing. And I guess my point is that these were online versions of personal relationships. Like you, I had no luck whatever in those large writers’ groups on Facebook. The numbers alone made any kind of meaningful exchange impossible. I didn’t stay long enough to encounter trolls.

    My two years on the Internet were certainly not wasted. On Facebook, I reconnected with some wonderful students from the 1980’s, met most of the writers I mentioned, and learned the basics of navigating the site. Although there were important exceptions, for the most part my experience in writers’ groups was not encouraging. But through my offer to write those reviews, and the quality of the reviews themselves, I have made a few close friends with whom I connect often, either by email or phone, just to talk about writing.

    So, don’t give up. The formula that worked for me was to limit my expectations and to focus on something I could offer. Incidentally, writing those reviews for over a year was a wonderful boost to my writing in general.

    1. Dean, I haven’t tried the groups on GoodReads. I’m thinking about joining CrittersWorkshop — they have a good idea, but then I thought the list in question was a good idea too. I do enjoy reading the works of others, and reviewing whenever I can!

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