Social Writing

In case you’ve managed to miss it, November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). That is a bit of a misnomer in that there are writers all over the world sitting down in front of their computers, or with notebooks and pens trying to crank out 50,000 words in just 30 days. The “Novel” part is also a bit, shall we say flexible, as some of those writers are composing the first draft of their dissertations or memoirs or even new roll-playing systems. What ever it is that all of us writers are doing, it certainly isn’t hiding in the basement or attic to type away in solitude in the middle of the night.

The thing is, that NaNoWriMo has managed to take writing out of the back rooms and middle of the night solitude and turn it into a social event. Yup that’s right, writing is social now, at least in November. The idea is that we all get together somewhere nice, like a coffee shop or a library and pull out our laptops and each write our own stories while being there with each other. It’s an amazing concept.

I remember all the way back to high school when my English teachers (and most of my other teachers too for that matter) told me that to get the most out of my time, I should do my writing when I was alone in a quiet room. I believed them. While it is probably true when I was in high school and highly distractable that was the most efficient way to get my homework done, it wasn’t necessarily the best way to do it for the rest of my life. Even now when I work in a high school I interpret the teachers telling the students to find a nice quiet isolated spot to do their homework. But where do most kids do their homework? In the lunch room with their friends. Which is as it should be.

There are many benefits to working with other people around.

One is that humans are in fact social creatures and really no matter how introverted you are, you need to spend some time around other people just to maintain your humanity. What you do with that time is up to you. I really can’t see any reason not to do homework or write with the benefits of friends around you.

Another is the chance to ask for help. Just the other night, I was sitting with a friend as we wrote our novels. Some time into the session, my friend sighs and says she’s might have to leave it there because she doesn’t know what to do next. Not wanting to be left alone, I ask her what’s happening now? A few more questions after that and we see that what needs to happen is for her heroine to forget about the note in her pocket and therefore not know that the love interest is also staying at the house she’s going to be house sitting while she tries to figure out what she’s going to do with her life. Problem solved and many more words written before it really was time to leave.

There is nothing like a great success and no one to share it with. There is equally nothing quite like being able to say “I finally managed to get through the wedding and kill the King.” Without having people wonder if they should call the cops or the insane asylum. When you are in a coffee shop surrounded by other writers and you come out with something like that, they cheer and congratulate you. That is so rewarding.

Another thing that comes when you are racing to meet a difficult deadline are ways to get there faster. With NaNoWriMo comes word wars. They aren’t as bloody as they sound. A word war is simply a timed challenge with other writers. 15 minutes (or 5 or however many you like) and you type like mad. The person with the most words when the timer goes off wins. Everybody gets more words and it’s a fun way to crank your mind into gear. Alternatively you can set a word count goal and race to see who gets there first with similar results.

For the more extreme folks, we have extreme writing events. In my region, we have a 24 hour write-in where we gather for 24 hours at a community center and spend most of that time writing. We also have the 28 hour tour, which requires you to be able to navigate after being up for more than a day and writing a huge number of words. Amazingly some of the stuff I’ve written in the last hours of the tour haven’t been the worst stuff I’ve seen coming out of my fingers. Perhaps a few more typos, but the ideas are still good.

There is one thing that I’ve learned from NaNoWriMo – writing is a social activity, no matter what my high school teachers my have said. I’ve also learned that I don’t have to hide all year long. Just because the frenzy only happens in November doesn’t mean I can get together with friends and write during the rest of the year. In fact, doing just that on a regular basis has brought me that much closer to being a published author. If you haven’t tried writing as a social activity yet, I highly recommend it. It won’t completely replace the need to have a quiet space for gathering your thoughts and putting them down, but it will still be fun and productive. Who doesn’t like that kind of efficiency?

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