As Fictionaut grows, we thought it would be helpful to ask some of our veteran members to share their tips about getting the most out of the site. Here is the take of writer, teacher, and Fictionaut advisor John Minichillo. We welcome your comments and your own advice on how to best use Fictionaut below or in the forums.
If you are new to Fictionaut, there may be confusion about what this place is. Facebook meets Zoetrope? A Wikipedia for the literary underground? Classmates for MFAs? What should be immediately apparent is that there are a lot of very talented writers here that you’ve never heard of. While Fictionaut could have easily become the tallest of slushy slush piles, the quality of the work — from back when the community was merely large, to now that the roster is enormous — has remained consistently good, thanks to the invite system and our unique place in literary history.
For about one hundred years there has been an ongoing writer’s renaissance. We are the beneficiaries of relative affluence, widespread higher education, cheaper books, branching public libraries, and an increasingly rich tradition of short stories, novels, and lyric poetry. This is our moment. Add word processors, the Internet, and writing programs. What we see at Fictionaut, for anyone paying attention, should be obvious: there has always been more talent than room on the bookshelf. Except that now, as the publishing industry finds itself in crisis, the number of publishable authors writing in English has attained critical mass, and the value of literary writing depends on an exchange where making a living rarely enters into it. Most of us are willing to devote our free time and our lives to writing for the privilege of being read.
Fictionauts are posting previously published works they want to make freely available, just completed work they can’t wait to show the world, and work they are uncertain about and want to get feedback on. Each writer decides what to post, and if they so choose, what to take down.
I’ve seen my own work go into print magazines you can’t buy anywhere, and since many editors don’t consider previously published works, like the elephants’ graveyard, literary magazines are where stories go to die. With the rise of online literary magazines, we were told the Internet was forever and far-reaching. But I saw my work published at online magazines that disappeared overnight. And so, if online writing is slightly more ephemeral, our collective presence here lends weight.
It’s a given you’ll find work at Fictionaut you won’t like. As you play imaginary editor you’ll nix submission after submission, but you will also come across work that glows, and, as a member, you’ll be able to let that person know that you loved what they did. You will make a difference in the outlook of another writer.
It’s also a given that you will post work that will get lost in the mix. But when you get a favorite, or two, or ten, you’ll know you’ve really accomplished something, because the readers who have commented are also writers.
Browse around and read something every day. Post something long, much too long for what we’ve been told about the reading habits of Web surfers, or post something as short as a sentence. Send your invites to your writing friends, and your nonwriting friends, and the writers you’ve never met but you would love to see join. Figure out a new way to use the groups. Or stay away a long long time and come back to a slightly changed community. Fictionaut is a batch of writers with open-ended tools in the same way a university is a collection of people and buildings. We are as large as a small university now, and growing. We are just getting started and there’s no telling where this all might lead. Fictionaut is what we make it.