Before I started the MFA program I found it very difficult to see myself as part of a writing community, especially living in a country where the dominant language was not English. I would send my work off to literary magazines only to receive, months later, a cursory, impersonal e-mail with no mention of the content of the story. It would only say that it was not the right work at the right time. Everyone who's tried to publish knows the tune. It feels a little like screaming into a storm.
Thank goodness for the Internet. If it weren't for a couple online writing communities, I might have given up altogether.
The first was National Novel Writing Month, which happens to be starting in two days. I've never managed to finish one of these things--I know myself well enough to see that I will never be able to write a novel in 30 days. But when I tried it a couple of years ago the work I began, the foundations I laid, helped reignite my desire to be a writer. It reminded me that, though may have been busy trying to acclimatize to life in Japan, writing made me happy, gave me a conduit to understanding the world around me that I couldn't live without.
The second community was a virtual writing studio called Zoetrope.com. Basically, your register, choose a genre and are instantly part of a huge online community. You must read and respond to at least 5 stories before you can get any feedback but, as most of you know, the response process in itself can give you as much inspiration as the reviews your story receives from others. The work is of variable quality but the more I read, the more I was able to crystalize just what did and didn't work for me in each piece. And if you're super-lucky you may even end up being published in Zoetrope's literary magazine All Story.
Both of these online communities reminded me that I wasn't alone as a writer. It was a nice feeling.