The Future of the Den

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  • #10393
    Athelstone
    Moderator

    1) It’s that time of year when our hosting providers ask for some money again. As ever, this forum is free to members, but should anybody wish to contribute please head over to the Donations group where you will find information in the forum. You will need to join the group, which doesn’t commit you to anything, to view the posts.

    2) You cannot have missed the fact that the Den has been less active over the last year or so. I don’t pretend to know all the reasons, although I can hazard a guess at a few.

    The Den does not lend itself to easy chat and conversation. Where conversations kick off, they are often seriously curtailed by bugs in the software that render some posts invisible. In my view this is a major, possibly fatal, problem.

    Many members are now published authors and no longer gain the same benefit from the how to write a book and get published style of topic that the WordCloud tended to specialise in and the Den carried forward.

    On a related note, there has been the coincidence of several members being published at the same time, or in overlapping periods. This means that several of our major contributors have been busy with real life rather than coming here to chat.

    Because of the curtailment of mobility that came with Covid 19, many Social Media resources have grown in popularity. Messenger, Facebook, WhatsApp, Facetime, Discord, Instagram, Twitter, and supposedly above all, Zoom, have become hugely important. I freely admit that after an hour or so of one of these, I am less inclined to spare the additional effort that the Den requires.

    A place like the Den lives on contributions: on post and reply. I do not feel inclined to post, particularly something as time-consuming as, say, a blog, if I feel that nobody has seen it. And I can only know that if there is some kind of response. If I feel this, then I can hardly blame anybody else who feels similarly.

    No doubt you have your own ideas about what’s wrong as well.

    So what do we do?

    Before anything else, I’ll say what my view is. I would like to see the Den remain up and available for another year, at least. If at the end of that period it looks like a lost cause, then I would agree, reluctantly, with pulling the plug. In this respect, you may or may not know that there are a couple of groups on the Den that are actually very successful, that post daily and have active threads. I would seriously urge any members of those groups who may not visit the main site that often, to state their views here.

    I would like to see a far better chat facility than we have now: the ability to post links, pictures, files; to properly edit and so on. There are a number of options and the site founders have (briefly) discussed this. Above all, I would like a chat facility that works reliably.

    In fact, the functionality of the site as a whole needs a thorough review. As an old retired person I’m quite happy to spend time looking at both of these areas (I was, allegedly, an IT specialist once upon a time. At least that’s where I went each day.)

    Personally, when we are eventually able to meet, I would like to see some kind of social occasion. The opportunity to actually meet face to face would give a huge boost to the Den. I remind all groups, users, friends, enemies, whatever, that there is nothing to stop you using the resources here to organise that kind of thing whenever you like.

    I think that the Den is a valuable resource, or at least a potentially valuable resource. Some great things have happened. The Autumn to Spring challenges have produced some of the best short-story writing around. I have learned a lot, including things I did not know I needed to learn. However, it’s not my call and not all down to me.

    So, please, thoughts and ideas? Keep going (see Point 1) or call it a day? Things you can think of that would light a fire under us – or reasons why we’re wasting our time.

    #10394
    Sandra
    Participant

    Read this, Ath, and will ponder (not that I think I’ve any answers.) but a year in which to turn around is an excellent idea.
    Another thought, along the lines of ‘if you pay for it you make sure you get your money’s worth; would be more convincing were this as lively and well-functioning as we’d like it to be.
    But, The site I cut my writing teeth on in 2010 – successful enough to get me to travel to America seven times to meet up – was murdered, revived then died again a couple of times. Earlier this year it was kick-started again. Format is better than some but not perfect, and many folk cheered and signed up. yet DO NOT AND HAVE NOT CONTRIBUTDE A SINGLE THING. So … good luck with that. I’ll do my best, but …

    #10395
    Athelstone
    Moderator

    I have belonged to one or two sites that have been invaded and effectively ruined by the invaders, after which they failed. How is a site murdered?

    As for contributers…well, that’s tricky. When it comes down to it, it’s people’s leisure time. If they feel compelled to contribute then I’d sort of hope it was some sort of internal compulsion rather than external. Yeah, it can be irritating when the crowd say “Go for it, I’m with you, I’ll have some of that” and when the dust settles it’s just you and the cat standing there, but I weigh that against things I’ve signed up for and not followed through on. I mean, here on the Den, I’ve changed my mind and deleted 10 times more posts than I’ve actually made. And I even pay for Jericho Writers and visit once in a blue moon.

    #10396
    Knicks
    Participant

    A quick run of thoughts apologies for typos. I came to the Cloud just before it collapsed so I do not have the same level of emotional investment as those who were floating there together for years and years. I discovered and came for my Random lovelies, and stayed for my Random lovelies. They are my only priority. I show up when they show up, and I do not feel the same responsibility that they and others feel to carry the wisps of the Cloud that remain upon my virtual back. That said, I think we can hold out here until possibly something new is set in place, because I agree that the comps are a treasure trove of wondrous short fiction and connecting in writerly ways over such makes me feel like we are the most elite explorers of all things Wordly, haha, but whether it is my own individual group remaining active, or the top three active groups coming together while those who just came #coscloud fade away, will be up to both those individuals and groups. That also said, this was supposed to be the new thing that was set in place a year or more ago, so the biggest question that remains to be begged is, if not this, then what? What’s next for those of us who are ready and wanting to show up and remain active?

    • This reply was modified 3 months ago by Knicks.
    #10398
    Sandra
    Participant

    Site was ‘murdered’ because owner decided to shut it down then did so, Telling no-one and refusing to answer all communications thereafter.

    I do think we that were there were lucky, insofar as it was a chatty, supportive active group, probably at the peak of its activity, which made the death of it al the more tragic,

    #10399
    Squidge
    Participant

    I don’t post here as often as I perhaps should, though I love knowing it’s here if I need it, or to celebrate good news with other peeps, and of course, to be challenged to write a short story every now and again.

    Beyond that, I think because I’m published, working on new material, editing for other people, testing a writing course, I don’t have the time to interact as much, and maybe I don’t look for critique as much.

    The last year has been a bad time creatively-speaking, and I’d appreciate the chance of seeing how things pick up over the next twelve months as we get back to the new normal. Lots of us probably need time to recover from the impact of covid and the changes it has brought to see whether we really do want to interact in the den in the way we have been doing.

    I have to admit, too, that I don’t find this site particularly easy to navigate compared to the Cloud, though most of that is on me not being intuitive when it comes to technology! So I miss a lot, and then feel I can’t comment if too much time has passed since the post.

    Not sure that’s helping very much, but it’s thoughts and ponderings to add to the mix…

    #10400
    Kate
    Participant

    The Den’s been a lifeboat for my SE group. And I love the inspiration the winter writing challenge brings. It’s also lovely to be able to see the successes of people I met on the cloud.

    But I wonder if, for the main page to be active, we need writers at different stages. I think we’ve all got a fair amount of experience on here, have writing friends we can call on and are busy on our projects. So we’re less likely to post for general feedback. We did have a new member a year ago who asked for a critique, but I was the only person to respond, which isn’t encouraging for potential joiners.

    Perhaps an admin could post a fortnightly writing topic for discussion? Something to get us all thinking and liven the page up.

    I’d hate to see the place disappear and am always happy to make a donation.

    #10403
    Raine
    Participant

    First off, apologies. I am not as active on here as I was, and definitely not as active as I was on the Cloud. Partly, recently that’s been due to being swamped with book release stuff. Partly though it’s because of the format & the way the site kills off chat. Both in hiding replies and in it’s weird notifications limitations. I think that’s a fundamental flaw in the site & (if it stays online) to ever really encourage interaction, that needs addressing as a priority.


    @squidge
    has a good point about the last year being hard creatively on everyone & @athelstone too re online forum overload! The only cure to both of those is to give it another year, I guess.

    It’s hard to me to give a firm opinion. It would be a shame if the Den died & I’d like to see it given a facelift & a second chance. But I can’t guarantee I’m going to be able to dedicate time to it over the coming months, however willing I might be – Other Stuff is vast and leaves me no spare time/energy. So whatever is decided, I’ll support it.

    #10404
    JaneShuff
    Participant

    My thoughts… I agree that the format doesn’t help and I’d love to see it changed. Maybe to something that would encourage more idle chat. Something about the format makes me feel I need to have something particularly worthwhile to say in order to post. I think idle chat is important for keeping relationships going but I may be in a minority here!

    I definitely agree that I’d like to see the Den keep going. And I 100% think that this past year has been difficult for everyone. On a personal note my whole life has moved onto Whatsapp and Facetime and Facebook and Zoom and phonecalls. Lockdown has meant various members of my family have needed me to communicate more frequently and some days I’ve barely been off one virtual medium or another. So please lets definitely give it another year.

    On a different note, I am one of the ‘going to be published’ authors albeit by an indie press and I don’t think it means you stop being interested in how to write and be published topics. It’s not like crossing the Rubicon. I am really aware as I struggle to the end of the shitty first draft for my next book that I know little more than I knew before.

    That’s all for now, but I’ll come back if I think of anything else…

    #10405
    Athelstone
    Moderator

    I certainly agree with the point about idle chat.

    #10411
    RichardB
    Participant

    Even after a year-plus of lockdown in various degrees I don’t do social media at all, no Facebook, no Twitter, no Zoom, no anything, so the Silence of the Denizens has been quite saddening for me. Not that I’ve been better (except in one respect) than anyone else. My problem is the opposite of that of several leading lights here: having (regretfully) given up all hopes of being published and indeed of finding any kind of audience for my fiction, I no longer consider myself a writer and have had nothing to say. I’m still up for a bit of chat though, only there hasn’t been any, to speak of.

    To be brutally frank, the Den has never really got off the ground, has it? When I first discovered the Cloud it had already been going for a few years and was chugging nicely along under its own steam, but we’ve never built up that sort of momentum. A glance at the Members column on the right-hand side of the page says it all: in the past two years we’ve had exactly four new members. A small tight-knit band of brothers and sisters is nice in its own way (Hello, Randoms), but you can hardly call a site with only four new members in two years a living, breathing forum.

    I don’t know what we can do about that, but making the Den more welcoming would certainly be a good start. The chat-inhibiting bugs on the Activity pages are certainly one problem (I really used to enjoy the idle chatter that went on in the Cloud’s heyday), but I don’t have the techie knowledge to suggest any cure. Just as important to my mind, though, the navigation is, bluntly, a disaster, and here I do have some suggestions.

    I joined the Cloud all those years ago because I wanted critiques on my writing and advice on how to improve it. I imagine this must be the case for the vast majority of people who join writers’ forums, and this stuff is surely the life-blood of any such forum. And how are they going to find that here?

    At the top of the page the main tabs are About – Writers’ Forum – Activity – Members – Groups. Okay, fine. Writers’ Forum looks like what we want, so let’s click on that. And what do we see? A list of forums with (mostly) enigmatic names, none of which seem to have anything to do with critiquing or advice. Where the hell is what we’re looking for? Oh, wait. What’s this mass of small print, halfway down the page under ‘Den of Writers’? Oh, it’s a list of sub-forums, only it doesn’t look like a list, because it’s all run together in a single para. Ah, here it is, ‘Critiques’. But what’s ‘The Writers’ Lifeboat’?

    In short, what should be the real meat of this place is hidden about as effectively as it could be, short of not displaying it at all. There are many who won’t be as persistent as this. People are impatient. They’ll open a page, and if they don’t see what they’re looking for at a glance they’ll pass. Once a new member was looking for the blogs and couldn’t find them until I supplied detailed instructions.

    Which of course is a particular bee in Richard B’s bonnet. On the Cloud the category ‘Blogs’ was one of the main tabs and a fruitful area of opinion and discussion, but here it’s hidden away and if Denizens miss the notification of a new blog on the Activity page they’re most unlikely ever to read it. I feel like I’ve been keeping the blogs going almost single-handed (to be precise, out of the 59 blogs posted so far 20 are mine – I’ve just counted). I’ve persisted, because I enjoy writing them (and because I have precious little inspiration for anything else these days), but I freely admit I’ve more than once sadly wondered why the hell I bother.

    I believe I’m right in saying that all the stuff other than ‘Den of Writers’ on the Writers’ Forum page relates to groups, and its presence is unnecessary duplication, as they can be accessed just as well (and more logically) by clicking on the Groups main tab. I suggest that this stuff should be banished from the Writers’ Forum page, and the page restricted to the list of the main Den forums, which should be laid out in proper list form, preferably with a little note as to what each forum is about. Or at the very least, make sure that list stays at the top of the page.

    Phew! I would like to see the Den persist in some form or other, not least because there are people here whom I have virtually known for years, and hope that things will improve (or can be improved) over the next year. As for the note of personal grievance that’s crept in from time to time, well, sorry about that, but it’s all part and parcel.

    #10412
    Libby
    Participant

    I like Kate’s suggestion of a fortnightly writing topic. A clearly marked heading and space might draw in potential new members among people who are Googling for writing advice. But it would need the links problem to be solved.

    As a member of Kate’s SE 2016 group, this site has been, as she says, a lifeline. A small number of us reports back at least weekly for support, advice and generally to keep in touch. We email too when required and, viruses allowing, occasionally meet in real life. As the groups are currently the busiest part of the Den perhaps a pooled area where the different groups could share experiences would be worth trying. At the moment we’re siloed. The SE 2014 group feels like a ship in the night with possibly unnecessary ocean between us. What do the speculative fiction group talk about? There must be topics of general interest and specific information which non members could learn from.

    Maybe an open group/s which highlights a few discussions would also encourage new members to private groups accepting new members.

    I’ll give all this and everyone’s posts some more thought and return later. Breakfast calls 🙂

    • This reply was modified 2 months, 4 weeks ago by Libby.
    #10414
    JaneShuff
    Participant

    Deeply pleased to hear other people want idle chat.

    #10417
    Libby
    Participant

    I agree with everything said so far, from the time pressures for people with publications etc in the works via Richard’s points about the site layout right through to feeling that posting stuff may not be worth the effort. And yes, idle chat would be lovely.

    I don’t use social media but I’m quite active on Jericho Writers and therefore could transfer some of that time to here.

    I’ve thought about doing a blog entry or two but don’t have the spare capacity to develop non-fiction writing, appealing though it is. I’m reading Will Eaves’ essay collection, Broken Consort, and even trying to write as well as he does would be an interesting thing to do. But with a draft novel I’m determined to finish in the foreseeable future, it’s all hands on the fiction deck. Well, two hands – which is of course the problem. Not enough time. Even on the JW site, a lot of contributors come and go quickly and there are many more of them than of us.

    Doing the monthly comps has been very helpful and rewarding. I am reaching the point of feeling I need a change of format from that for my monthly non-novel efforts and am thinking about microfiction – 100 to 150 words max. So if anyone is interested in that I’d be happy to moderate a monthly group, or a two-monthly group might be better. It wouldn’t have to be competition based. Posting drafts for comment might be just as useful. Or just talking about microfiction we’ve read and what we’ve enjoyed about it.

    I’d like to carry on with he monthly comps too but know from experience I don’t have the time and creative power to do both.

    One last thought which may be peculiar to me. I’d feel more comfortable posting my fiction efforts to a password-protected group rather than to the Den’s front page, as it were. There’s something about the open to the internet aspect which discourages me even though the world isn’t spending its time accessing the Den. Would that it were. But this hang-up could be just my psyche. Others may think yet another group would be counter-productive, so I raise this just as a general point.

    #10431
    Athelstone
    Moderator

    Well, there’s a lot to think about. And to get started on.

    #10434
    Thea
    Participant

    Sorry, late as usual! Having read through the comments, I think there are lots of excellent points made and, yes, it feels like the site needs sprucing up. For example, there is always a big buzz in the autumn when the annual challenge is announced – but how to maintain that buzz? For a prospective new member, the general lack of activity must be off-putting, and the list on the right shows that no one has joined in a year – could this be changed to just show ‘activity’ on the site? Also, is it worth closing inactive groups? Again, these look off-putting to a prospective member.
    Libby made a good point re work-sharing being password protected. Kate’s suggestion re the fortnightly writing topic sounds good too. And Jane’s call for idle chat – yes! There used to be a lot of that on the Cloud. It doesn’t have to be writing related, I recall we had a discussion here a while back about garlic!
    Anyway, apologies, I don’t post here as often as I should. Will try harder!

    #10435
    Athelstone
    Moderator

    The garlic will be ready for harvesting in a few weeks.

    #10451
    Barny
    Participant

    DoW problems: Usability just isn’t what it should be; not being able to post pictures is a pain; definitely doesn’t promote idle chat.

    The wordcloud was very far from perfect, but had one significant difference: the course offerings meant new people were always joining, wondering wth was going on, some figuring it out or persisting without figuring it out – so there was a steady stream of course finishers wondering if they could keep learning or just chat idly with the old lags. So maybe can we persuade someone to create, or develop our own, course offerings? I don’t think the offerings would necessarily have to be astonishingly astonishing (although that would help) but they need to work as courses. I guess the point would be for us to show up in a search for e.g. ‘uk writing course’.

    Drawing in new users (SEO): I can’t remember how I found the wordcloud, but I think it did involve ‘uk’ as one of the search terms because I’d glanced at US-based forums and they weren’t for me – want to avoid color/trunk/american-englishisms. I can find us if I include ‘denofwriters’ but that’s not really helpful to bring in newbies. So what else can we do to make ourselves googleable?

    #10482
    Janette
    Participant

    Sorry I’m so late to this. As many of you know, I’ve had rather a bad accident (tripped on a pothole) and suffered several injuries, including breaks to both arms, particularly the left elbow (I’m left handed).I have been warned the recovery will be long and involved, and I’ll probably not recover full movement to my left arm/elbow. Typing is slow and painful (and fogged with meds) so I’ll have to keep this brief. Sorry, but I’m unlikely to be back on a regular basis for a while, but I’ll pop by regularly if only for a read.

    As for Den, I agree with many points and hope we can turn it around. I love the idea of offering courses and chat, and also wonder if we can throw out a pay-per-entry comp/s (money prize) to raise funds and attract new people?

    sorry, that’s all I can offer for now.

    #10507
    Bella
    Participant

    I’ve long thought that people would bite your arm off for a decent beta reading service.

    I flung out an idea on Jericho Townhouse ages ago along the lines of: author pays £X to Jericho who assigns the MS to a selected beta reader from their pool. There is a standard rubric the beta reader must follow (timescale, topics covered, length of report). When beta reader finishes the job and feeds back to the author they get paid a decent percentage of the fee held by Jericho.

    If the service was at the right price then I don’t think it would matter whether it was provided by a published author/established editor or not. That’s what drives the price up (I think) at the likes of Jericho for a full editorial review and in my experience it’s very hit and miss whether the author gets value for money.

    We’re all decent beta readers on here, I know for a fact. BUT it turns the whole thing into somewhat of a commercial entity, which has its own set of headaches. Hence why I suggested it at Jericho, which could easily slot that into its business model.

    #10508
    Bella
    Participant

    Also – apologies of lack of participation. The Covid situation has totally mucked up my mojo. I’ve not written a word, stopped playing my (relatively new) sax, hardly even read a thing blah blah blah. It is what it is. I have developed an obsession with weightlifting, so haven’t been entirely idle! But I’m starting to feel the odd twinges of interest in an MS I started way back, so maybe the mojo is returning.

    #10509
    Barny
    Participant

    @athelstone have you looked at moving to a 21st century forum like discourse? I use it on talk.restarters.net and it’s pretty slick. You can get email notifications and reply by email; can upload pictures, has trust levels and you can restrict areas.

    #10510
    Sandra
    Participant

    I do think Bella’s beta readers might be an idea, but perhaps, at least to start with, omit the financial bit and just set up a register of those willing and those wanting, with some detail of genre, etc and the willingness to send a sample chapter to see if they’re compatible.

    And the possibility of uploading pictures, I’d say Handle With Care, because I’ve seen them very quickly replace words the less-inclined writers.

    #10511
    Athelstone
    Moderator

    Well, images have always been here, just not uploading images:

    #10515
    Barny
    Participant

    OK, but what about the many other advantages of discourse (or something else modern, i.e. not wordpress)?

    • This reply was modified 2 months, 1 week ago by Barny.
    #10517
    JaneShuff
    Participant

    Random comments:

    Yes to Beta Reading, but, time permitting, I’ve always been a keen beta reader. I honestly think the beta reader learns as much from the process as the writer, but I’m not keen on the financial aspect. I know Thea posted a request for beta readers recently. Did anyone respond @thea ?
    And on that subject, I’d welcome a discussion about beta reading. What’s helpful and what’s not so helpful etc. I suspect we’re all different but it would be interesting to know.

    Also, although I haven’t had time to contribute much recently, I do read everything that’s posted and I’m sure I’m not the only one!

    #10518
    Athelstone
    Moderator

    Hi – that was a reply to Sandra, just for avoidance of confusion. Yes, there are several very appealing forums available, including Discourse (and I must say as a longtime repairer, I like your forum and the topic). That said, with Discourse, we would need a VPS or similar non-shared server arrangement*, unlike a traditional web-host, so the questions arise about migration or whatever…

    But this is as good a time as any to think about what to do.

    *which rules Nethosted out at £49.95 per month.

    #10519
    Sandra
    Participant

    Sorry Ath, but I didn’t reply to your “images have always been here, just not uploading images” because I wasn’t sure what you were getting at.

    #10520
    Libby
    Participant

    @Bellam I hope the writing mojo comes back. And the reading and sax playing. These big events like Covid can really knock the oomph out of all sorts of things.

    • This reply was modified 2 months, 1 week ago by Libby.
    #10522
    Libby
    Participant

    A discussion on beta reading sounds a good idea. I could probably learn a lot from the way other people approach beta reads.

    I don’t think I’d want to offer my beta reading services to a wider public, as it were. I’m happy to do it for members here and for people who pop up on the site asking for a reader from whoever is available. I generally stick to realist adult fiction as my knowledge of other types is too limited. If someone finds my feedback useful that’s great and if they don’t, well it was always the luck of the draw who they’d get and no promises were made by me about quality of said feedback. But to say I’m available and someone to specifically pick me, that feels more demanding and less comfortable. Added to which I have limited time and would only take on first chapters, synopses or short stories, say up to 3k words. Also in relation to time, my priority is the other members of the 2016 self-editing group.

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