The Extinct Internet Community, Sarahland and How I Started Writing Online

I decided I was going to be a writer when I was nine years old. I’d carry a spiral notebook and manila folder around, convinced when inspiration struck I could not waste one second. My manila folder was home to all the loose-leaf pages filled with world-building attempts. And since this was before the days of Pinterest, I used to clip out photos of models that I decided my characters would look like in clothing advertisements from JCPenny’s or Macy’s and glued them into a homemade flip book. None of my stories had endings because I could barely keep my attention on one before another plot idea sparked up and begged me to write it. This act of story hopping went on for about four years.

At the age of thirteen I got my first computer, a chunky desktop with a glass screen and tower I sort of “put together” (I took a computer building class because at the end they let me have the computer I was working on for free). The most exciting thing about having this computer was that it allowed me to use Word. Finally, I didn’t have to figure out how to keep track of my loose leaf pages anymore. Every story I wrote would be carefully stored on the computer’s drive.

My writing and reading habit eventually lead me to an online community created by Sarah Dessen for her fans: Sarahland (a now extinct online community). Community members, mostly girls between the ages of 12-18, discussed everything from their love of YA romance to their days in the outside world. Our community was small and welcoming. It’s something I owe a lot to because during that time I didn’t have any real-life friends I could talk to. Sarahland was the first – and probably only – time I really felt safe in a community online.

Each user got their own blog, but it was rare to actually see someone using the blog for life updates or observations. Instead, quite a few of us used it for sharing our creative writing. Inspired by Sarah Dessen, we penned stories of young heroines falling in love and growing up. I jumped at the opportunity to have an audience, immediately coming up with a story that was inspired by my favorite recent read at the moment: Twilight… I know. Oh, boy, do I know. Thankfully, my bad boy vampire turned into just a bad boy (because my work was very groundbreaking) and I posted once a week with chapters that couldn’t be longer than 600 words.

The work was entitled Nick Hather. It followed Tori and Nick, two lovebirds dealing with family drama and addiction. I found the first three chapters thanks to a few emails I sent to someone who offered to edit my work. And I can promise you those three chapters are the most cringe-worthy things I’ve ever written (besides the original draft where Nick was a vampire). I was homeschooler who knew nothing about drug addiction or high school, in general, was writing an edgy star-crossed lovers tales based on what I’d gather from YA literature from the 2000s. Try to imagine that. Can’t? Here, I’ll help:

FRAGILEGIRL

And…

FRAGILEGIRL1

Despite the huge, “No!” feeling, Nick Hather will always have a special place in my heart not only because it was the first story I finished but because it was the first story I ever shared.

I start thinking about Sarahland because I’m revisiting another story I began when I was a teenager. This one has much more potential to be revived so I’ve dedicated myself to rewriting in hopes of finishing something I started around nine years ago. In all honesty, I’ve been struggling to keep pushing forward in writing the story and it makes me wonder how the younger version of me kept writing. Now, I’m so focused on if the plot is progressing in a timely manner or if my character development makes sense. Back then none of that even mattered. I just wrote.

But, of course, I don’t want to be that teenager who didn’t know much about writing outside of what she’d seen other writers do. I need the freedom that I once had when telling a story, but I also need the structure I’ve gained from growing up and learning. Revisiting this story is the perfect opportunity for me to work on finding a healthy balance in my storytelling.

I’m curious: Are there any extinct internet communities that you feel you’re the only person who remembers? I’m not talking about sites like MySpace or Friendster. But what about those ones that weren’t ever big but still meaningful and helped you express yourself?

P.S.

If you do happen to remember Sarahland and was a member, hi! Even if we never spoke on the site I feel like we’re long lost, friends. Hope you’re doing well.

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