When I don't know what to say, I start at the beginning. My old screenwriting teachers always said start with the action, and maybe that's why my beginnings have never been good. A decade later, it still feels like my best beginning was written at fifteen when I started a book with "All was quiet until the white dragon vomited soot and flames across the hall."
That book was written before I started sharing work online. It was also the beginning of my online work. I wrote Serango my freshman or sophomore year of high school, and I printed off the pages, punched them into a binder, and it was passed around a larger friend circle. Enough people enjoyed the fantasy that when my aunt offered me use of her Apple website account, I took her up on the offer. That Apple site, a program which Apple has long since abandoned and no longer exists, was the beginning of sharing work online. The platform functioned similarly to Squarespace, with formatting done offline.
I posted my novel in chapters, and because I did not know to fear... Because I was a braver person then, I printed off one of those advertisement sheets where you can tear off a phone number, like for dog-sitters or selling used furniture, except I put my website's address. I posted this sheet on the communal cork-board at my high school so that everyone who wanted to read my novel could do it.
I don't think I did that out of any arrogance. I think it was simply a naive lack of fear. I think I thought my writing was good. Considering that enough people read the first Serango, it was not bad. Even with a decade of distance, I look at those early pages and see a lot to admire, if a had habit of chronic overwriting. (The second book in that series, however, was a hot disaster and I don't think I knew it).
Anyway, I posted on that cork-board because I did not feel there was a place for me as things stood. I mean no offense to my high school. NCS, a small D.C. private school, had a literary society, but it seemed that everyone sat around sharing short, literary fiction. I didn't doubt that I couldn't write that stuff, but... I never wanted to write short fiction. What was the point? I read novels. I wanted to write novels.
Better yet, I wanted novels with dragons and heists and mysteriously gendered chemists. I wanted to make up the world. I wanted armies battling over gold. God, why would I want to write about couples divorcing and fighting in kitchens? (I mean, to be fair, I guess The Princess and the Fox Demon is partly a divorce novel, but it has shapeshifters, and shamans, and a battle with a volcano. I think you get the point.)
What I mean to say is that, I was never interested in short literary fiction, and that alone was what I could discuss in real life in school. The internet, however, was a different story. People online seemed to be crazy for mythological creatures, smooching, and horrible jokes. People online seemed to like genre fiction. At that time, I did not know what it was called, but I knew what I liked to write.
I fumbled around with my own website for a time, but by the time I went off to college, it was a thing of the past. I have a copy of the school newspaper with an article where I was interviewed, and I believe there is a screenshot of the website. That's all I have.
My freshman year, I wrote novels, but did not share them, and I believe it was my second year when I discovered Figment.
The website had been around by the time I found it. I participated in a writing day contest at my university, and if you participated, you got a free dinner with a speaker. I submitted a piece of creative nonfiction. I got my dinner. The speaker was one of the founders of Figment, Dana Goodyear, and I remember her talking about founding a website to share writing after being inspired by cellphone novels in Japan. I knew about cellphone novels, and I liked the idea of sharing my work online.
I was not very good. I banged out a few projects for Figment, like The Mori Hero, but my overwriting habit completely wrecked my hopes of a following. It took me a long time to learn that there was a way to write and catch people's attention, to sustain that attention, and that you could not take a million words when a few would do. I cannot begin to express how important this was for me.
I discovered short fiction, flash fiction, and attention to word count made me a better writer. I started winning contests. Just as I began to hit a stride and actually get followers, Figment absorbed another website. The historian in me, as biased as she is concerning Figment, sees this as a turning point. The influx of new users were not used to Figment's culture. They were writers more so than readers, and this made building a reading audience harder than it had been before. Users demanded reading exchanges, which is okay, except that it became exhausting and unrewarding. That said, I loved working on the science fiction serial, Void Inc, and the short story "The Madness of Crown Prince Sazaki," both of which I still find wonderful. I almost don't believe I wrote them.