Writing has been a solitary occupation for ages. Everyone knows the story: the writer shuts himself away in a shabby writing den off to some solitary location and proceeds to ignore spousal, social, financial, and sometimes even hygienic responsibilities until that glorious day when he/she emerges with the next literary masterpiece in hand.

Perfect place to get some writing done, right?

Recently that scenario has changed, perhaps drastically. While in the past the writer was pretty much on his own, the world of today is far more connected. Thanks to social networking, today’s writer can be a member of numerous writing groups, write and follow blogs, take part in thousands of discussion boards on writing, and generally engage in a million distracting things associated, but not necessarily beneficial for writing.

It took me a while to find a solid avenue when I perused at the beginning of the social networking age. Sure, I wrote some bleak poetry under the online guise of Knightmare or BardofDarkness, but there was nothing solid or serious about that particular period of online ‘writing’. But sometime after I wrote, submitted, and experienced subsequent rejection of my first novel, I began to take my online meanderings more serious.

Eventually I found a writing contest called First Chapters sponsored by a site called Gather.com and Random House. The idea was to submit your first few chapters to see if they could ignite enough interest for readers to want to read more. I came for the contest, but ended up staying for the connections that I made after joining the site. There were dedicated writers there, literary-minded individuals that took their craft seriously, but didn’t mind offering encouragement and constructive criticism to help one another. And as any writer can tell you, that’s hard to find.

It was there that I learned an important, scratch that -a vital process missing from my craft: copy-editing. A few of my peers demonstrated that a finished manuscript wasn’t finished at all, in fact the journey had really just started. I learned to look at every word, every sentence, every paragraph and question whether 1) it was necessary, 2) could I express it in fewer words, and 3) could I make it sound better.

Say whaaaaaaaaaaat??

That was a life-altering lesson, ladies and gentlemen. I am greatly indebted to those writing peers for showing me that writing a story may create a manuscript, but editing is what makes a novel. I had so much work to do on my fantasy novel. Looking at it with a critical eye revealed so many deficiencies, I practically didn’t know where to start. So I didn’t. I realized that at that point, I just didn’t write that well. I had to retrain myself, start with something simpler, less complex than a sprawling fantasy world and all its related complexities. What came out that decision is a post for another day.

When I look back at those times, I’m grateful I had the chance to be among a community of writers. Eventually the site changed: more politics, less creativity, a flood of useless posts for shallow profitability, etc. I left for less occupied waters, swimming from one network to another but never finding quite the same type of environment. I’m still in touch with the closest of friends that I met on Gather. But in my writing journey, I mainly reverted to the old practice of making it a solitary occupation.

I’ve found that there are many sites, blogs, support groups, etc that coddle and cater to writers, but at the end of the day I had to ask: is this making me a better writer? More often than not, it wasn’t. I was there to socialize, to talk about the trials and triumphs of writing and publishing, comparing ideas and strategies, doing a lot besides actually writing. Many times social networking can be a dragnet that scoops us up and holds us together, wriggling around but not going anywhere. It takes some forethought to judge what avenues are truly beneficial. After all, a writer who doesn’t write is just a dreamer. I prefer to be awake. And so I try to spend less time online these days. Concentrate on what’s beneficial and necessary for growth and connecting my product with potential customers. Nothing wrong with the camaraderie, so long as it has a place, not a priority. It’s about streamlining, trimming the fat. Nip and tuck.

Your network can be your net worth, after all.