Almost fourteen years ago I fell in with a band of mad scientists – well, they seemed like mad scientists to me – who convinced me to become a part of something called scryrtch. I understood it to be a collaborative storytelling experiment. I had no idea what I was getting into. It was crowdsource fiction before crowdsource was a thing. Here, I’ll let Heath Michael Rezabek (Mad Scientist #1) explain further:
“Q : What is “scrytch”?
A : scrytch grew out of a need to write. more specifically, scrytch grew out
of the need to try out collaborative prose in a networked forum. the idea was
that multiple authors could combine various approaches and ideas, and that the
finished work would be richer than the sum of its parts.
the problem was that the e.list environment [in which scrytch is now being
done] wasn’t conducive to “finished” works, long works, or even necessarily
collaborative works. the first two problems were /almost/ limitations of the
medium, and the last had to do with a raging debate in lit circles about
authorial property and appropriation.
what we ended up doing to come up with scrytch was concede: “ok, let’s say that
we treat this prose as a sort of compost-pile, memetic silage, idea-humus? and
more, what if we all agree that for the purposes of scrytch, words are fluid;
it’s a writing exercise, so let’s say we can all appropriate freely bits and
bytes from each others’ scrytch? we can maybe publish ‘anthologies’ of scrytch
some day, but can’t sell ’em, and can’t claim it all as any one of ours? what
do we get out of this individually? well, we get to see if collaborative prose
can even WORK in the network environment. we get to try out those cut-up and
appropriation writing techniques that Burroughs warned us about. we get to
develop 100% net-rooted prose if we want. we get to try ANYTHING topic or
approach-wise, and we get to hone our respective styles in relation to the
other scrytchers, so that when we DO go out and write a larger piece for sale
or whatnot, we’ve had the hands-in-the-dirt practice with freedom of ideas and
style to do it well!””
Or, more simply…
“the idea is simple; if the net isn’t conducive to longer works [one of our hard-earned hypotheses], why not LET it be used to crank out smaller, hypertextual works. if collaboration tended to be sticky due to questions of authorial property, why not treat the whole endeavor as one big writing experiment and allow appropriation and re-arrangement of ANYthing, with actual reference to original authorship kept to a deliberate MINIMUM? clearly the idea wasn’t to get famous, or necessarily to turn out marketable prose; it was to hone our styles in relation to each other, it was to try for once to write ANYthing that struck us. the ability to appropriate freely also, we’ve found, allows some pretty strange effects — you read a bit of text and, pages later, read the same bit in another context, perhaps subtly altered. it can be odd. so this is a “silo” of scrytch. one can scrytch, and one can make scrytch. one can scrytch scrytch. this is a glommed up mix of the stuff, in no sense official; there is no official to officiate. heck, there’s no “author.” or rather, it’s n^authored. on that note, if you want to QUOTE from some scrytch in, for instance, your .sig file or in an earth-shattering academic paper, simply quote the stuff as by Scrytch. as if that were the author. if you need a list address to point to, it’d be <firstname.lastname@example.org> … there’s not really a “Scrytch Project;” we just sort of have it figured that what we’re producing is scrytch. now, be warned: if you QUOTE Scrytch in another place — including your own prose work — that’s fine, and say so;”
This was my introduction to online writing. It was 1999; I was sending flash fiction, short stories, interesting links, and weekly observations by e-mail to friends who politely tolerated it, there were murmurs of something called “blogs” out in the internet wilderness, and I didn’t fully grasp what it was all about except it was new, freaky, and more exciting than the prospect of sitting alone in my apartment scribbling in notebooks.
That was the beginning of the most productive period of my writing life so far. This blog, the third iteration of the one I started in the fall of 2000, continues to be politely ignored. I managed to turn parts of the first blog into a decent short story collection. (again, politely ignored) And I’m currently publishing crime fiction on JukePop Serials. (We’ll see how that works out…)
Do I sound bitter? I’m not. I’m excited because today an email popped in my inbox asking if the old scrytch user group was still alive. Frankly, it’s been dead for years. It’s just a home for bots and spiders now, but someone had a brilliant idea – let’s see if a new home can bring it to life. So, I’m happy to say Scrytch – Denver lives again!
You wouldn’t have recognized the place you last knew; it was overtaken and set to ruin by that very “mad scientist” you mention… for ownership and territorial tendencies, for fear and loathing that masked self-loathing.
It is good to see someone else keeping true to the path. Proof, if anything, that there’s really no such thing as “owners” and that the purest intent ever outlasts the selfish ones.
Good fortune and success to you, fellow Scrytcher. This, a small pebble, set to honor the once and future dreaming.