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Online writing communities emerge as a space of solace during the pandemic

Whether it is through fan fiction or original stories, digital platforms are giving writers a safe, judgement-free zone to express themselves

The stories that have been most popular during the pandemic range from eerie science fiction to romantic novels imagined in a quarantine setting. Photo: iSTOCKPHOTO

V.S. Santoni, a queer writer, was searching on the internet about websites that hosted original fiction. This led him to Wattpad, a community where authors post stories live and get immediate feedback. “Interacting with readers thrilled me. It allowed me to curate one's own experience. This, inevitably, helps marginalised youth with a safe space to engage with one another as well,” they say. Santoni’s latest story is a Latinx college romcom about a couple of boys, who fake a relationship so that they could become famous on the internet. “But they end up falling in love anyway,” they say. For authors like Santoni, writing communities such as Wattpad and An Archive of Our Own have emerged as safe, judgement-free zones to share one’s creativity and to find like minded people. This seems to have gained futher traction during the pandemic.

According to Devashish Sharma, India country head, Wattpad, the stories that have been most popular during this phase span a wide variety of genres, from eerie science fiction to romantic novels imagined in a quarantine setting. One such story, which came out in April, was Lockdown on London Lane by The Kissing Booth author Beth Reekles. The story instantly became popular and currently has over 400,000 reads. Similarly Neil D’Silva from India wrote a thrilling new story, What The Eyes Don’t See, in March when countries the world over were entering into a lockdown. “At Wattpad, not only did more people start reading, but more authors began to move their work online. From January through April, the number of new stories being written on the platform grew by 151%. April also saw a 50% increase in user sign-ups compared to March,” says Sharma.

On Archive of Our Own, people have been revisiting fandoms that they used to enjoy or are trying out "fanwork content" for the first time, even if they were already fans. “There is some anecdotal evidence that people are feeling nostalgic about things they used to enjoy and that includes fandom participation,” says the spokesperson.

These platforms have also seen members of the LGBTQIA+ community going online to share their writings, build an audience and change the notions of who gets represented in literature. However, the numbers are still hard to gauge. As the Archive of Our Own spokesperson explains: “We are a non-commercial site, we do not collect user data. There has always been a great deal of LGBTQIA+ storytelling on our site since it opened to the public 11 years ago. However, I do think that fans are much more open about writing it as we enter the next decade than they were either in 2009 or in the decades before that." This also tends to be dependant on the status of queer individuals in their home countries or local areas. "The more accepted that LGBTQIA+ individuals are in their lives, the more likely they are to express that in terms of their fiction or their participation in fandom," elaborates the spokesperson.

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