Writing has long been considered a lonely profession, but when prose gets put on the Internet, the instant feedback makes writing a much less lonely occupation.
Not many people who are fond of writing actually end up getting their work published in books, magazines or in newspapers.
However, the Internet opens a new door for aspiring writers. A new term "cyber-literature" has been catching on.
For many cyber-literature writers, the day starts something like it does for this woman:
"When I turn on my computer, the first thing I do is to find out whether anyone has left any comments on what I posted the previous day."
The young woman, who has given herself the net name "Echo-Bird," is a graduate student at Fudan University in Shanghai. She took up online writing two years ago.
She is just one of the millions of Chinese who now post their writing on the Internet.
"The biggest attraction is that I can write down whatever is on my mind, I do not need to worry about whether it will please the editors of a certain magazine or newspaper," one writer explains.
"I receive feedback as soon as I post my work online," says another writer.
Cyber-literature came to China in the mid- 1990s when several literary websites were set up, but at that time, the Internet acted merely as a new carrier for traditional literature, with most of the works simply scanned and posted "as is."
It was not until 1998 that online writing's popularity really skyrocketed.
A modern love story entitled First Close Touch (Diyici Qinmi Jiechu) written by Taiwan writer Pizi Tsai spread widely on the net. Its free writing style and contemporary language quickly attracted people. The fever continued as the story was later published, then turned into a film and even adapted for the stage.
After that, more and more people started posting their stories, poems, articles and other works on various bulletin board systems (BBS) or literary websites.
One of the sites that receives the most hits is http://www.rongshuxia.com, the world's largest online publisher of literature in the Chinese language.
Set up seven years ago, Rongshuxia (which literally means "Under the Banyan Tree") provides a platform for writers to show off their talents.
According to Lu Jinbo, chief editor of the website, it used to receive two or three articles a day in its first days, but today gets more than 5,000 submissions every day.
Over the past seven years, more than 100,000 people have had their work published on the website.
These avid writers don't get paid, but their online writing fever never cool down.
Among the net literature fans, over 60 per cent are students, and college students account for a major part of participants, Li said.
Unlike professional writers who put words on paper for a living, most of the online writers write only in their spare time; in other words, when they feel like writing something.
But some netizens eventually become professional writers, with their writing skills widely acknowledged.
Ning Ken, 45, is one of them.
Two years ago, his long story The Veiled City (Mengmian Zhi Cheng) was posted online and won him one of the most prestigious awards in China -- the Lao She Literary Award -- in October 2002. This was the first time for the award to be given to a piece of work posted online.
"I benefited from the Internet," Ning Ken recalls. "After I sent out my story to publishing houses, I waited and waited but got no reply. So I put it online. I had no idea it would become so popular among online readers."
The story has now come out in print. The writer has not only realized his dream but has also joined the Beijing Writers' Association.
Despite his fame, Ning Ken still likes to put his works on the Internet first.
"When I finish a piece of writing, I usually put it on the Internet before sending it to magazines. I want to hear others' comments first. People's suggestions and even their criticism give me inspiration," he said.
However, as more and more people take up online writing, questions about the quality of online literature are increasing in number.
Many critics say subjects popular on the Internet are not deep enough, with writers giving vent to their dissatisfaction about love and life, and paying little attention to larger social problems.
Li Qing, secretary-general of the Beijing Writers' Association, says every coin has two sides. She said that people should look more at the good points of online writing.
"Among online writers, many do have special talent. The Internet has helped us find a lot of good writers whom we might otherwise have overlooked," she said.
(China Daily March 3, 2004)