Valencia County News Bulletin, New Mexico.
Wednesday, May 31, 2006.
Belen Janet Scott couldn't find what she was looking for on the Internet so she decided to create her own place in cyberspace.
After failing to locate an on-line writing group in which she felt comfortable, Scott started her own in 2004.
Universal Writer's Group, for which she is the "manager," is now 225 members strong. It has twice been named to Writer's Digest's annual list of the Best Web Sites for writers.
Scott, who lives in Belen with her husband, Richard, says her goal was to "make a nurturing place for all kinds of writers - professional writers, fledgling writers, published writers, unpublished writers."
Scott takes her mission seriously. The group - which is free to join - is geographically diverse with members hailing from across the United States as well as countries such as South Africa and Australia.
The age range is staggering. Scott has extended an invitation to the storytelling 6-year-old daughter of an existing member; a writer in his 80s has also submitted his work.
There are more than 20 different boards on which to post. Genres range from "Fairy Tales" to "Futuristic," "Mystery" to "Mystical."
"There's a niche for everybody - sci-fi futuristic, plus a recipe board," says Scott.
Members submit their work on one of the various boards to have it critiqued by their peers in the group.
Scott expects her members to demonstrate kindness and respect for one another - something she hadn't experienced on similar Web sites.
"In other groups I belonged to, they thought their job was to knock you down a peg or two," she says, noting that her group is "unique."
"I have never met a group of people so supporting of one another and cheering each other on," she says.
In that spirit, she doesn't conduct the kind of on-line writing contests that are popular on similar Web sites.
"I don't believe in them," she says. "I don't believe in one artist being pitted against another."
For their participation, Universal Writer's Group members get encouragement and suggestions intended to improve their writing. Many make friends.
But for Scott, the benefits were even greater. She says the group has literally been a lifesaver.
"This is the thing that brought me back to life," she says.
Diagnosed with Hepatitis C in the 1990s, Scott has endured years of health complications. She started experiencing vision problems in 1999 and is now legally blind. A nurse since 1984, her declining health forced her to give up her medical career. She also suffered a stroke in 2003.
Scott had been writing for years. The daughter of a former newspaper reporter, she was bitten by the writing bug as a teenager at boarding school in El Paso. She wrote from that point on, penning everything from fairy tales to blues songs. Her first published work was a commissioned biography of California historical figure George C. Yaunt.
Scott continued to write through some of the most troubling times in her life, including a failed marriage. But her deteriorating health put a stop to all of that.
Scott says she had to quit writing. She was bedridden for three years prior to moving from her native California to New Mexico with her husband in 2004.
She says moving to New Mexico had a positive impact on her health and her motivation.
"I truly believe New Mexico is the land of enchantment. All of the sudden, my blood sugar went down. All of the sudden, I wanted to write again," Scott says.
With the encouragement of other writers she'd met online, Scott started Universal Writer's Group in February of 2004. The woman long known as "Nurse Janet" to friends now goes by the online moniker "dogwomanyan1" and spends day and night at the keyboard.
"I'm writing at least a couple of thousand words a day, sometimes more, plus all my replies, plus all my e-mails," says Scott.
In addition to posting her own work - she's currently penning the fictionalized account of a real-life California murder as well as an epic poem - she often responds to other members' posts and spends time monitoring the group's activity.
"I'm so hands-on," says Scott, whose husband is one of her assistant managers in the group. "I'm on that computer day and night. I write critiques, and I write my own stuff. I encourage people, and I do not allow any flaming."
By flaming, Scott is referring to mean-spirited feedback. It is prohibited in the group, as is anything else she finds detrimental to her original goal. No obscenity; no advertising. Scott has banned several people for various offenses - one member tried to offer her editing services for a fee.
"There's no soliciting of editing for people," says Scott. "That's what we are. We're a writer critique group, and we do it for free because we want to help people."
In helping others, Scott says, she's helped herself. She says she doesn't know what her life would be like today without Universal Writer's Group. "I don't even think about it," she says.
For information, see http://groups.msn.com/UniversalWritersGroup.
Jessica Dyer News-Bulletin Staff Writer; firstname.lastname@example.org
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