(I think it was shortly after my ill-fated attempt to dance for Lindens at a nightclub; I earned all of L$15, which then disappeared from my account overnight!! I know I was strolling on the beach at Written Word while I calculated that I’d earned roughly 5 cents for almost as many hours of dancing—because I remember, as I picked myself up after fainting from the shock, I looked straight at the bright red Written Word sign while I promised myself I’d never fall for those “easy-money” schemes again!)
At any rate, Written Word has always been one of my favorite writing groups in Second Life. It is also one SL group that I tell every writer coming into SL they must join! (For more about groups, and especially writers’ groups, in SL, check out this earlier post.)
So, what does Written Word do for writers? A lot, but here are some of my favorite (and always free) activities:
The Writers’ Circle:
This is a weekly, two-hour open mic where writers of all forms and genres are invited to read their work and, if desired, receive feedback on it (very supportive feedback, I might add!).
Jilly Kidd (left side of stage) and Hastings Bournemouth (left side of stage) emcee a recent Writers’ Circle open mic at the Waterstage.
The Writers’ Circle is particularly dear to me because it was at these open mics, starting in March 2008, that I built up the nerve to read my fiction aloud to other writers (and readers). As I wrote earlier, as an introvert living in a rural area, I just never read my writing to a life audience—that is, until Second Life, and particularly because of this event.
The Circle Slam:
An extension of the Writers’ Circle, the Circle Slam is held every few months. Now, in first life, poetry slams are quite popular (at least in the United States), but I’ve yet to see a “slam” for prose writing. At Written Word’s Circle Slam, you can read either prose or poetry in this fun competition, where the audience votes on their favorite performance and the winner receives a cash prize of L$2,000 (roughly $8 in U.S. currency) and “a coveted Written Word rosette” (see photo at right). Granted it’s not a lot of money, and often the number of entries isn’t very large (such as when I won the event last June), but it sure feels good to get the kudos.
Winning entries from the Circle Slams are also linked on the Web site, along with photos of the writers who won. It’s not exactly the same as getting published in, say The New Yorker (*rolling my eyes*) but it helps to motivate us writers to keep writing!
The West Hill Cafe at Written Word in Second Life: a great hangout, with indoor and outdoor seating
Places to write or just hang out:
As a writer, sometimes you just need to connect with other writers or that nebulous “writing energy.”
- To just hang out or meet other writers (or even hold your own informal reading), Written Word offers the West Hill Cafe.
- If you want a writing space, check out the writers’ caravans. “Just park your avatar here while you get on with your novel, play, poetry or whatever it is you’re working on,” Written Word founder Jilly Kidd tells writers. “Writing can be a lonely business—sit here, and you’re bound to get some company from time to time.”
Here I am writing in one of the Written Word caravans with a view of the ocean and these beautiful black swans.
Promotional events and ongoing display areas for writers:
- For two years, Written Word has put on the incredible Autumn Writers’ Exhibition, a month-long fair and festival that provides free booths for writers to display their work, and special events to support writers and promote their work. (To get a better sense of this amazing event, check out my earlier post about AWE.)
- Year-round, they have several areas where group members can display their published work (with links for buying it), booths where writers display information about themselves and their writing, and the “Writers’ Barge” (see photo below) where writers can show progress on current writing projects (a la NaNoWriMo).
For mutual support, writers working on a project can use the Writers’ Barge at the Written Word “fish market” to update their word counts.
The Wizards of Written Word
Credit for creating such a supportive atmosphere goes to Written Word’s owners/organizers, Jilly Kidd and Hastings Bournemouth, two British authors who live just a short distance apart in the physical world, but didn’t know each other until meeting in Second Life.
In one of those strange coincidences that occur with amazing frequency in Second Life, Jilly and Hastings happened to meet and become friends on the SL island where they would later create Written Word: Cookie Island.
In first life, Jilly Kidd is Adele Ward, a published poet and fiction editor for the British publishing company Bluechrome. Hastings Bournemouth is Peter Chowney, a fiction writer (short stories and novels) by avocation, and a business writer and elected ward councillor in Hastings, England, by vocation.
Jilly, who’s been active in the Second Life writing community since she joined SL two years ago, was asked by the owner of Cookie Island in 2007 to set up an area for writers there. She then asked Hastings, who’s been a Second Life resident since October 2006, to join her in the endeavor. “It seemed like a good idea, so I did,” said Hastings. “We agreed that the area should be strictly non-profit, and nothing would be done that would involve taking money from writers. That approach seems to have worked.”
Jilly, the lively extravert, published author, and publishing pro, organizes many of the programs and promotes Written Word widely. Hastings, who claims to be more introverted, builds much of the 3D world of Written Word and operates the Web site.
Hastings (like me) “only ever intended to dip into SL and see what it was about. I never intended to spend so much time on it.“ Now, more than two years later (much of that time spent on Written Word), he is astounded to find both himself and Written Word still going strong—and even growing—in Second Life.
The Authors’ Market at Written Word exhibits first and Second Life periodicals, as well as individual writers’ work.
Written Word is a nonprofit organization that provides all of its services and programs at no charge. So, I ask Hastings, what’s in it for him?
“Just being involved with other writers, listening to their work, organizing the Web site, feeling like you’re giving writers a bit of encouragement in a world which is extraordinarily difficult to break into, in terms of developing a writing career.”
Plus, “Organizing a genuinely international set of events, particularly the Writers’ Circle, with so many different cultural backgrounds represented from around the world.” (It’s quite common to hear writers from many continents reading at one of these events.)
“There is perhaps no other medium or format where you could achieve that, having 20 people apparently sitting on a small seating area listening to a fellow writer on stage, all feeling part of a small intimate group, when in reality these people are thousands of miles apart, sitting at their computers in every corner of the world. I find that amazing. Just 20 years ago, it would have been inconceivable. What will we achieve in the next 20 years, I wonder? “
I often wonder that, too! Since discovering Second Life nearly a year ago, my writing life has been dramatically enhanced. Hastings is a prodigious writer, with two finished novels, among other works, so his writing output would have been the same without SL, he figures. “But it has certainly been a source of inspiration, which I’ve used in my writing.”
Published authors (including Adele Ward/Jilly Kidd author of Never-Never Land) can display their books (and links to purchasing sites) for free at this Written Word location.
Since she became a Second Life resident, Jilly Kidd has seen the publication of her latest work, a book of poetry titled Never-Never Land, and has begun writing about Second Life for the Publishing Talk Web site.
She’s also been instrumental in getting four publishers to set up shop at Written Word in Second Life. Right now you can visit the offices and meet staff members of Bluechrome Publishing, Cinnamon Press, and Canongate Books. Opening soon is an office for PanMacmillan’s imprint Macmillan New Writing. The publishers’ shops are designed to “showcase published work, as well as providing advice and guidance to writers on publishing,” Jilly says.
Two of the publishers who have set up “virtual shop” at Written Word in Second Life
Meanwhile, Hastings has been designing and building the 3D spaces themselves, which, in addition to be quite inviting, are often replicas of traditional British buildings—the art deco cafe style used in the past by many UK seaside resorts, 17th-century Kentish oast houses, Gypsy caravans from the horse-and-buggy era. These alone are worth a trip to Written Word.
Written Word offers many more programs and resources than I’ve mentioned here—author presentations, classes and workshops, discussion groups, podcasts — but you really need to check it out for yourself to get the whole picture. (Besides, even as I write this, there’s probably something new being added!)
If you’re a Second Life resident familiar with Written Word, I’d love to hear your experiences with this group. I’d also enjoy hearing about other writers’ groups in SL that have helped you with your writing. Please comment about it below, or send me an email.