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How Open Salon's User-Generated Content is Changing the World of Writing

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I've been reading so many posts lately that I think my mind has morphed into its own brand of blog. For those who haven't found it yet, Open Salon (OS) is an online community of bloggers who share their writing in a cybercolony hosted by Salon.com. The underlying idea is: if it's good enough for columnists like Rebecca Traister, Camille Paglia, and Garrison Keillor, then it's good enough for me.

Open Salon is an endlessly fascinating place; like the Internet, its very structure teaches you how to interact with it, but unlike the Internet, that structure is essentially altruistic. It forces its participants to be supportive of one another.

Savvy contributors to the site learn that in order to secure readership, they have to pay attention to others. The only way people can chart your cyberspatial ramblings is if someone comments on them. You can be a jerk on OS, but it will not increase your readership. In fact, I would go so far as to say that kindness has evolved as a trait of survival on OS. This works well for those who believe that helping other writers is the way to get ahead--a sort of you scratch my back and I'll help make you the-literary-maestro-you-dream-of-being style of fantasy.

Open Salon's elegant, intelligent, and funny contributions often come from talented writers who operate outside of the mainstream publishing sector. Reading over the different posts and subsequent comments can often feel like a eulogy for the writer's dreams.

This theme of creative disappointment got me thinking about what constitutes success for a writer. Regardless of their level of achievement, most of the writers I know regard themselves as citizens of a failed kingdom of letters. Some part of me suspects that it's simply the nature of the scribe to strive to build still loftier pleasure domes. This has as much to do with the age of most of the writers I know (mid-twenties, old enough to feel they should have accomplished something more, but young enough to be just shy of their career-making coup) as it does with the central recipe of the profession--one part isolation and insecurity, one part wonder.

Anxieties of the wordsmith aside, in the slow death of the print industry, aren't bloggers the novelists of the future? Aren't these burgeoning online receptacles of writing the new mode of intellectual interchange? Why can't these writers see what I see?

In my adventures on Open Salon, I find ideas of nuance and originality that widen my panorama; voices with no editor or corporation forcing them to compromise their zing. In my cyber-travels I have encountered a history of the vagina dentata, meditations on Charles Manson, commentary on the current climate of journalism, and bits of poetry and fiction of exquisite inventiveness. I learn about what turns these people on, what frustrates them about their spouses, and who they think they are when no one is watching. I find links to articles I may have missed, even in my feverish surveys of what's making people's minds quiver on the daily. I now know how to make a bound book, Borscht, a best friend for life.

I have found writing of great beauty and bravery, and many, many belly laughs. On my more solitary writing days, like dispatches to outer space, these artifacts of creativity remind me that I am not alone. This is just a message from one writer to another: keep on writing and I will keep on reading. I turn off my computer each day stuffed full of deeply important, and sometimes adorably pointless, information that I carry with me, like grandma's lipstick marks, irritating and wholly precious.