I spent time this past week reviewing some of my past writing…a few odd poems (one of which won an annual competition at college), a couple of half-finished stories (one of which I plan to complete soon and attempt to publish), and a whole slew of stuff I wrote during my association with a usenet collaborative writing group, alt.starfleet.rpg.
As the name indicates, ASR is set in the Star Trek universe, but the originators wisely chose to play in a period slightly beyond the canonical Star Trek history, which is used for background purposes only. Participants are organized into groups of 7-10 who create the adventures of an individual ship, base, or other Starfleet unit. All characters are original creations, and players post installments to the newsgroup in turn, as their characters naturally flow into the story. the result is a continuous, interactive narrative that would make a decent novella if all the installments of a particular “mission” were spliced together in the proper order with a little polishing.
All this would be moderately sneer-worthy if it weren’t for the fact that this…enterprise (yeah, I had to say it) has been going on since 1991, which is pretty good longevity for any internet-based activity, and the participants (at least during my association with ASR) really do care about the quality of their writing.
I had a lot of fun writing with ASR (anyone who cares to can find ample samples by searching the Google Groups archive using “Fred Warren” as a search tag). It was, truthfully, a mixed bag…writing skill varied from sub-high-school to scary good, and some of the scary good folks weren’t great team players, but when everything came together, it could be a thing of beauty. It gave me a chance to play around with writing in a low-threat environment, to practice building characters, work with dialogue, and develop stories with a beginning, middle, and end. The interaction with other writers kept up my motivation to write regularly, and provided a huge supply of interesting ideas. Some of the best stories happened when someone brought in a twist or sub-plot that caught everyone by surprise. The good writers learned how to accept and provide feedback gracefully, and the struggling writers who stuck with it usually improved a lot. It also wasn’t a “trekkie” thing, really. The Star Trek back-history provided a familiar lingua franca and freed us from a lot of the logistics involved in trying to imagineer a whole new universe. We could take interesting characters of our own, drop them into this setting, then see what happened as a result.
It could take up a lot of personal time, particularly if you got into the administrative part where you were more responsible for planning the basic outline of the stories, managing player assignments, filling vacancies, settling arguments, etc. After two two-year stretches, with a hiatus in-between, real life just got too overwhelming, and I had to call it quits. I do miss it, particularly when I go back and look at some of those old posts and remember how cool it was when somebody took an idea of mine and ran with it, or when somebody else took me in an entirely different direction with a character or situation than I had been planning, and the story became much richer as a result.
I don’t think I could go back, though. If I want to grow as a writer, boldly going where I’ve been before isn’t going to help much.