Modern Beat: The Internet and Literary Communities

This was originally published in Beatdom #5 and was written by David S. Wills. You’ll find this and all our old essays on the all new

When the Beat Generation was in its heyday, the writers and artists that created its seminal works were in love with literature. They looked to the past for inspiration – to Blake, to Whitman, to Wolfe. They paid tribute to their influences, but more than anything they took those influence and made something new. Their creations were in response to the world around them – the world that was at that time the present.
That was indeed a crazy world, wrought from the turmoil of World War II and faced with unprecedented prosperity and the ever looming threat of global annihilation. These are very much things we deal with today, and consequently Beatdom has always sought to foster a new generation of writers and artists. We strive towards the future with our influences proudly showing, and with the present our motivation. But we are not the only ones. There are writers the world over who are changing the face of literature. There are publications that are dedicated to making sure readers find someone new to read; that writers have somewhere to print their writing.
In the Modern Beat section of Beatdom we like to show you examples of the Beat spirit transcending the decades that have elapsed since last we could say there honestly was a Beat Generation. Today, instead, we will show you how the internet has helped resurrect certain elements of the Beat Generation for our times.
The internet is making this easier for us all. It is also helping the environment by making it unnecessary to waste trees in order for us to read and write. Websites like YouTube let us speak to audiences of millions. Poets no longer need the slam or the coffee shop to speak to their listeners. They can stand before the world in the aftermath of a click.

Blogs are perhaps the best example of the world opening up for talented writers, young and old. It’s not easy to gain respect or fame through blogging, but the same is true for printed books. Cutting it as a writer is always a tough job. The difference is that anyone can have a blog and anyone can read it, anywhere in the world. It’s not so easy with books.
Publishers, agents and editors peruse the internet, just like everyone else. It stands to reason that they might see something they like and help that writer move into the professional realm. Indeed, Beatdom has been hand picking its writers from blogs since its inception, in 2007.
But, as I said, blogs can be written by anyone. That’s the beauty of them – the freedom they offer. That also makes it a time consuming process for anyone wanting to “stumble” upon something of any great worth. Consequently, good blogs often develop dedicated followings and the bad ones fade into nothingness.

Social networking helps aspiring writers to meet others and make useful contacts. It also lets them share their work with others. Many young writers with limited promotion budgets are told by their publishers to get MySpace and Facebook pages, and more recently, to use Twitter.
Making contacts has always been a key to moving up in the literary world. Bukowski – among others – may have believed that the process of writing was simply a man sitting in front of his typewriter, but it’s hard to imagine that man’s work going any further without friends.
When Beatdom first came into existence it was largely thanks to MySpace. Many of its contributors found the magazine through Beatdom’s MySpace page, and most of its readers came that way, too. Nowadays MySpace is mostly the domain of musicians, rather than writers, and Beatdom conducts its business largely through Facebook and Twitter.
These things may have seemed impossible a decade ago, and they may seem ludicrous to anyone unfamiliar with the virtues of social networks or the literary world, but MySpace and Facebook allow art to be distributed easily. They allow like-minded thinker to meet and share. They allow the exchange of ideas and information quickly and efficiently. Who can say that the Beat Generation, given the chance, wouldn’t have taken advantage of, for example, Facebook’s free and easy networking resources? I imagine that Ginsberg would have thoroughly used and abused Facebook to promote the work of his friends across the globe.

There are also websites that use the blogging medium, but that use editors to vet writers and thus bring their website some quality control, whilst opening the door to more writers than the publishing industry can afford. By only allowing the best writers to contribute, these websites develop fiercely loyal readerships and offer fantastic platforms for writers to reach their audience.
They also help foster creative communities, wherein writers can communicate with one another and receive feedback. Writers are often seen as loners, but the help of others is essential in producing a great piece of writing. The Beats liked to help one another, and Allen Ginsberg was particularly fond of community efforts, helping edit and promote the work of his friends.
It is the pleasure of Beatdom magazine to bring you two examples of such websites: The Nervous Breakdown and Road Junky.

The Nervous Breakdown

Founded in 2006, by author Brad Listi, The Nervous Breakdown has grown from a small community blog into something that reads more like a magazine. It is written by around 200 contributors and edited by 19 editors.
Listi founded the website after writing his bestselling novel, Attention. Deficit. Disorder. Since then, TNB has grown, gaining remarkable popularity. Friendships were forged, strange little inside jokes and references have become abundant, and two of the members actually got married, having met through TNB.
Such is the talent pool at TNB that many of the regular readers and writers have published successful novels with big publishing companies, and many are well along the road to that same end, with agents seeking writers based upon the popularity of their TNB posts.
TNB is now in its third incarnation, having evolved technically and stylistically. It features edited poetry and fiction, in addition to the material added by the growing list of contributing writers.
The readership is particularly impressive. Having gathered fame through the quality of its material, TNB now has some 70,000 visitors per month, and extremely active users who comment jovially on each post.
Recently TNB has taken to producing live readings at locations across the United States, drawing readers and writers from around the world to come, meet, mingle and share their work. These meetings have resulted in fantastically entertaining YouTube videos and podcasts.
The Nervous Breakdown is a fantastic example of a writing community fifty or so years after the Beat Generation and their late night pot, booze and Benzedrine debates and writing sessions. Writers have always found success in keeping to talented groups, and TNB is our age’s answer to the Beats and to the Lost Generation
I asked Listi what he thought about the Beats and their relation to TNB, and had this to say:

“I count myself a fan of the Beats and feel like TNB takes some of its cues from their spirit and sense of community. I’m also cognizant of their industriousness, particularly when it comes to Allen Ginsberg, who in my view really “made” the Beat Generation, with the help of John Clellon Holmes at the New York Times.
“Increasingly, it seems, a writer is wholly responsible for nearly every facet of his or her operation. Writing is only part of it.
“It’s not widely known or commonly talked about, but Ginsberg’s background in marketing and advertising was a significant factor in his success as the spokesperson and “brand-maker” of the Beats. Not really all that romantic to ponder, but significant nevertheless. It’s nice to think of Allen as a high priest of poetry, elevated above the scrum, but the truth is that he was an enormously effective businessperson, without whom “Beatdom” would likely not exist.
“Kerouac was useless when it came to this sort of thing. So were most of the rest of them. Ginsberg was fighting to be heard. And fighting well, it seems. And moreover, he was fighting to have many people heard.
“I see his efforts reflected all the time in the modern literary world, particularly online, and The Nervous Breakdown is no exception.
“What Ginsberg and the Beats did continues to be a model for how writers can empower themselves and create their own communities, their own movements, their own readerships, their own legacy.”

You can visit TNB at or support them on Twitter, MySpace and Facebook.

Road Junky

Road Junky is a very different beast. It is less obviously a community effort, and receives far more editorial attention than The Nervous Breakdown, but it is nonetheless reminiscent of the Beat collaborative ethos.
Road Junky was founded in 2004 by Tom Thumb and James Klee. The idea of Road Junky is simply to offer an alternative to the Lonely Planet guides. Rather than going into details about prices and temperatures and whatnot, the articles and essays on this travel website focus on experiences and wild kicks.
One could say that it more like On the Road than a conventional travel guide. Which is a great part of its charm. There is certainly a school of thought that says one learns more about a place through feelings and emotions than through facts and figures.
The writers – whom Thumb refers to as Road Junkies – are simply writers and travelers. They are unpaid, but write frequently about places all around the world. Many of the stories include drugs or law-breaking shenanigans. There is a certain emphasis on the stories being enjoyable, rather than strictly informative.
There are forums and comment boards for feedback, and although they do not receive the same deluge of activity as those at TNB, they do encourage a group spirit and a highly personalized element is brought to the website.
As Thumb says, “we wanted to give a voice to a generation of travelers whose perspective is too raw and unpolished for the conventional travel writing biz, we were interested in representing the travelers who were more into losing themselves than finding what their guide books told them to find. Road Junky has helped a lot of these starving, naked souls find a place where they see they’re not alone, a sense of community.”

Road Junky can be read at, with updates posted on Twitter and Facebook.

It is not hard to see that The Nervous Breakdown and Road Junky are doing a world of good for the contemporary state of writing. They are invoking a Beat spirit that is admirable and necessary, whilst pushing talented writers into the limelight they need to continue doing what they do.


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