Building Community Online

I’m part of several online writing groups, and in one of them the moderator checks in daily with a neat picture and the question: how did your writing life go today? This particular moderator, let’s call her Kathy, posted these daily check-ins for quite a while until she had a relapse of a chronic illness and couldn’t do it anymore.

An example of one of the check-in photos (by Ken Chandler).

I had been responding regularly to her check-ins, but when someone else took it over it coincided with the onset of my severe depression and I stopped responding. It didn’t feel the same with a different person running it. And I didn’t feel like checking in. I didn’t even feel like a writer, so how could I have a writing life to check in about?

Even when Kathy recovered partially from her illness and returned to posting the check-ins, I still didn’t respond. I just didn’t think it mattered.

Then last week I had an unexpected email in my Facebook inbox.

Photo by David Street (CC BY-ND 2.0).

Kathy had emailed me to find out how I was doing! She said she missed my voice on the check-ins, and she was impressed that I was able to speak about my mental health struggles candidly and forthrightly. I told her I was on a mission to reduce the stigma around mental health issues, and she encouraged me to get back on the wagon and start checking in again.

I’ve now been checking in for a few days and I already feel more connected to my writing community. It makes a difference to know that someone has “seen” you in a faceless online group, and that they care about you and how you’re doing. It makes me feel like I’m part of a community of women all working away on writing projects and living everyday lives. The check-ins also make me feel like I should write more, so I have more to talk about. Which isn’t a bad motivation for writing. It may be the best way to start writing again – so I can actually talk about it.  

So here’s a shout out to all the Kathy’s out there who take the time to contact someone they haven’t heard from in a while to see how they’re doing and to tell them they’re missed. Though we sometimes denigrate online community as not being “real” community, it sure feels real to me in this case.

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