Culture | Power to the pen

Artist-run collectives like The Room 22 expand the limits of online publishing

Most creative writers encounter a bleak reality when attempting to get their work published. Publication is a process that always seems to involve massive amounts of heartbreak, resentment, and textual ranting – possibly with a vat of vodka thrown into the mix. The continuing emergence of creative blogs spanning all literary genres indicates that many writers have had enough of these frustrations, and are taking the matter into their own hands.

Although it circumvents the red-tape of conventional publishing, self publication is not without its faults. A lack of standardized quality controls coupled with the vast number of creative blogs means readers must sift through a lot of painfully average writing in order to get at some actual creativity, especially since many blogs have an inherent tendency to disintegrate into angst-driven ranting.

Among the countless forums dedicated to sharing creative writing on the world wide web, Montreal-based The Room 22 has emerged, not as a personal blog, but as an online art collective – a means of disseminating writers’ work while providing feedback from within. Being surrounded by writers who have their own unique, creative styles creates a sort of built-in quality control. It also counters bloggers’ tendency to disregard anonymous feedback by steeping the members’ relationships with each other in an atmosphere of creative inspiration and critique. “We bounce off each other a lot…we’ll go back and edit certain pieces…we found a voice that felt like the one we wanted to offer,” said Guillaume Morissette, one of the members of the collective.

Within this dynamic, writing becomes a means of relating to each other, an aspect absent from single-author blogs. It also allows for a personal element that conventional publications lack. “We have a concept of inspiring each other, of writing for ourselves but also for each other,” said Marie Jane.  One of the collective’s original members, Marie Jane has remained active an active part of the collective since its creation two years ago. “Once you’re part of it, you’re always part of it,” she added.

The common conception of blogs as adhering to a single-author, confessional structure often leads to a lack of respect and general disregard from literary communities. As a result, it has become difficult to employ blogs as a platform to establish credibility. With this shortcoming in mind, The Room 22 will soon use a parallel medium for establishing its members’ work more concretely.

“When The Room 22 started, we wanted to do a zine… it’s taken two years to get to a point where we have something decent and solid,” said Marie Jane. With the flexibility that websites offer, it become easier to post works-in-progress, as there is no sense of finality. Being online-based then characterizes the collective as a fluid dialogue, allowing the creations to grow and evolve with feedback. “[A zine] is more substantial… The blog is a tool for us to get our work out there and maybe finish it…the zine will have some finale to it… The poems I post aren’t final and I haven’t decided how I’m going to present them yet… We’re [still] working our way toward the zine,” said Devin Charitonidis.

The Room 22 is concerned with more than just writing; it provides its members with an outlet for a variety of art forms. Its aim to create an artistic experience on various sensual levels is evident in how the website draws its audience in, not only with access to the members’ writing, but also by providing a window into their lives – from artwork and music they find inspirational to a section dedicated just to images.

“We’re interested in visual arts, multimedia arts, video collaboration, events, having people involved in the process, showing the whole process of writing… It’s not just us presenting our work… We’re more an art collective than a writing collective,” said Marie Jane.

Self publication allows writers to regain control of the creative process.  While there is a certain stereotype of glamour associated with publishing in established journals, striving blindly toward this can be constrictive, especially for newer writers still discovering their artistic styles.

One of the members of the collective, Olivia Wood, has been self-publishing since before she got involved in The Room 22,  and finds that the appeal of self publication lies in the freedom it offers.  “It bypasses that whole perpetual filter that’s super subjective, especially when it comes to poetry…When you start writing things to cater to publications, you start getting far away from your own actual process,” she said. It comes down to a choice between finding and refining  your own voice or moulding it to that of a publication.

Creative collectives can combat the restrictions enforced by publishing houses by providing a platform that is more personal, creating room for a multitude of voices. “People like reading our blog and enjoy the whole process because its really personal…we don’t really censor ourselves at all… I know that from my writing, I’m nervous about wanting to publish eventually, because its a very specific genre of writing…it’s not going to be easy to find place to submit that kind of work…I don’t feel that pressure when I write on the blog,” said Marie Jane. The collective has found its identity through the various voices that comprise it, not the other way around.

The essential role of creative collectives in allowing a place for writers to grow, to develop their own artistic voices without succumbing to what Morissette aptly referred to as “the arbitrary directive to submit in a [certain] template, with no control over which people like it.” Even adhering to these requirements is never a guarantee of publication. “It’s like a Magic Eight ball,” Morissette believed.

Creative collectives may be a stepping stone to publications, but aren’t yet established enough to serve as a substitute. Regardless, collectives provide a concrete platform for critical feedback, create relationships of inspiration, motivation and improvement, and could hold the future of creative writing in their URLs.

The Room 22 is at theroom22.wordpress.com. They welcome submissions at theroom22@gmail.com.


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