The inspiration for my novel, Miami Morning, came from a source made possible only by modern communications technology. Through the internet, it’s possible to network with people who are quite different from us, who live in other countries, engage in other occupations, and come from a variety of cultural settings. Several years ago, this opportunity brought me into a relationship with new people, and their experiences, and our shared experience, fueled my imagination.
I was invited to join an online discussion group by someone I met on LinkedIn. But it wasn’t through a literary forum. Instead, it was one of the philosophy groups. David Turnbull and I had been responding to each other’s comments on posts. This was followed by corresponding via personal email. He read some of my writing, which led to a passionate, and sometimes heated, discussion of ideas and beliefs. He then invited me to join his online group. This wasn’t a group primarily for writers, he said, but everyone could write. The group was composed of people mostly living in Australia and the United Kingdom. One was an American working as an academic advisor and teacher in China. David had been an occupational therapist (OT), and he helped set up the group for Nick Pollard, a professor in England who teaches OT and has co-edited several ground-breaking volumes on the subject. Two members were persons with disabilities, and two university professors.
I decided to jump in and see what it was all about. It turned out the members, each of whom had been invited by one of the group’s founders, were very good writers. They were thoughtful, intelligent, and insightful as they described their experiences, whether it was as a disabled person, a disability advocate, or simply as a person trying to live freely and ethically in modern society. The topics were wide-ranging, but were always rose from people’s experiences. One of the members, Rikki Chaplin, is blind and has some hearing loss. He is also a musician. He became a disability advocate and now works for BlindAustralia. Another was diagnosed as schizophrenic and has been in a life-long struggle to survive the attitudes of medical professionals and society. The lives, accomplishments and aspirations of each of these members were a revelation to me.
I recommend getting to know some of your online friends better through group and one-on-one conversations. Once you’ve established a rapport, reach out to them and start your own occupational community. You can do this on Google or Yahoo, for instance. Keep the membership a manageable size, perhaps less than fifty maximum. Remember that if your start or co-start a group, you’ll be the administrator. The group I joined had no rules. When a member became abusive, other members responded, and in several cases, people either left or were barred from participating by the administrator. There isn’t an online referee, so you have to self-police. And my group has now morphed into another. This is the way of modern internet life. So don’t be afraid to adjust or to move on.
My experience showed me the value of talking with people who were able to bring new ideas and perspectives into the discussions. The group doesn’t have to be about writing. It can be about certain subjects of shared interest, for instance. But in writing about them, you’ll hone your craft.