The Great Write-In Dilemma

   Posted by: Faith   in NaNoWriMo

I had a pretty slow weekend. Not in the sense of sitting down and doing nothing, but in terms of my word count, and there are a few reasons why:

a) The write-in was more talking than writing.

b) Saturday was full of non-motivation because of the bad previous writing day; I swore I was coming down with something (I felt dizzy all day and actually spent much of the day in bed); and the evening was date night (but that’s a good thing).

c) Sunday was bellydance workshop and performance day, so literally no time for writing – but I knew it was coming, so I’d planned to make up for it by writing extra on Friday and Saturday… oops.

Which leads me to today’s post… what’s the deal with these write-ins anyway?

Why Write-Ins are Good

Our first local write-in was a lot of fun, even though only 3 of us showed up. We’d never met each other before (though I promptly forgot everyone’s name), and we spent some time getting to know each other. We only wrote about 300 words each in the space of an hour and a half, but it was alright – I don’t think anyone really expected to do much. It’s great meeting new people (especially when you’re an introvert and situations like this force you to move outside your comfort zone), and write-ins during NaNo are an excellent way to foster community.

It also means that you gain a good group of people to sustain you throughout the rest of the year – sure, we only really “get together” for NaNo related events in November, but with things like MSN and Facebook, we can stay in touch and see what each other is up to year-round… I don’t mean that in a stalker-esque way, but in terms of encouraging each other’s writing. That’s good. Plus, if you find out about some writing lecture or event happening, you know there’ll be someone who wants to come with you.

Why Write-Ins are Bad

They don’t have to be… really… but the problem arises when write-ins aren’t regulated. I don’t mean to sound like a crochety old hag, but when you go to a write-in, you typically expect to do what the event name is called: write. In. Er, in wherever you are. Write-ins are, by name, the time when a group of writers gets together to write – each on their own stories, but in the same locale for moral support. Some people find write-ins to be a great boost to their word counts, and I’ve looked at a few local NaNo region websites that have write-ins a few times a week, just so everyone can take advantage of the opportunity.

However, these write-ins have rules: You arrive, you say your hellos, and then you write. You’re asked to refrain from chatter until the write-in is over, because people are there to get work done… and although I don’t know if it’s happened to anyone, I’ve even read instructions that said “if you want to chat, please find someplace else in the cafe to do so or you’ll be asked to leave the group”. Wow. That’s some serious writing-in.

But the fact of the matter is, these people get work done. While I don’t have a problem with some idle chit-chat, the real issue arises when people come to unregulated write-ins with completely different ideas about what they want to get out of the session. If one person wants to work, and another person doesn’t really care about making their word count for that day (or week) and simply wants to chatter, the two aren’t going to mix, and someone is going to come away from the write-in seriously pissed off.

The Delicate Balance

The fact of the matter is, write-ins will only function as intended if rules are laid down before the event is held. The other events of the month – the Kick-off party, Halfway party, and TGIO party – are traditionally the NaNo events where people are invited to chit-chat all they want. In fact, talking is encouraged at these events, and people who want to sit and write are considered party poopers.

So what do you do if you’re at an unregulated write-in (for example, you’re part of a region that doesn’t have its own ML to set these guidelines) and someone won’t shut up, seemingly needing to fill any lull in the conversation (ie. when people begin to actually write) with some mundane comment that starts everyone off again (or they just keep talking, regardless of whether anyone is listening)?

a) You can sit there and take it. I’ve been there, done that, have the low word count from that day to prove it. I didn’t want to offend anyone (these are new friends, after all!), and I wanted to be a good sport, so I just sat there and got 600 words written in the space of 4 hours. Needless to say, I was the one upset about it later… however, I had to realize that since no one laid down any ground rules for the write-in, it was partly my fault for not doing anything about it.

b) You can politely excuse yourself from the conversation and find another table to work at. This allows you to leave the chatty area while saving face, and hopefully the others will realize that you came to get some work done and won’t resent you wanting to make word count. Then, they can continue their conversation, and you won’t be sitting around doing nothing and being angry at your new friend(s) afterward.

c) You can be pro-active and lay out guidelines yourself. This can be tricky, however, if you’re not the ML for the region. It’s like Survivor – people don’t always take well to the person who seems to put themselves in charge. You don’t want to get voted out of the write-in, so if you’re not ML, run the idea past the other core people who come to these things. You’ll most likely find them to be accepting about the idea, especially if you suggest a time deadline for the write-in with a chatting period afterward. If you’re going to get together on a Sunday afternoon, why not suggest writing quietly (and enforce it, though everyone needs to be on board with this) from 2pm-4pm, and then having an encouragement session afterward from 4pm-5pm where everyone can get to know each other better and talk to their heart’s content?

The last thing you ever want to do with NaNoWriMo – or in just about any situation, let’s face it – is distance yourself from the people who can encourage you most. Burning bridges is just a bad idea, because you never know… that recent acquaintance you made could become your best cheerleader, and vice versa.

And one last thing: If there’s someone in the write-in group that you just can’t get along with, here’s your chance to practice patience, kindness, and self-control. Maybe you didn’t learn how to get along with everyone when you were in Kindergarten – so now’s your chance! Be gracious, and treat all your new NaNo friends with respect, regardless of whether you ever want to see certain individuals after November or not… because November is going to come around next year too, and are you going to bow out just because you’re not particularly inclined toward one particular individual (or two, or three… depends on how large your region is, I suppose)? I think not.

The Verdict

Write-ins can be good, write-ins can be bad. It all depends on what the people you’re writing with are like, and whether or not anyone has set down some guidelines for the meetings – a much more challenging endeavor for a region without a Municipal Liaison. As I mentioned before, if a write-in isn’t going the way you expected, choose one of the three options above (particularly the last two) and do something about it, without burning bridges in the process.

You joined NaNoWriMo to write, to connect with other writers, and to find comfort and encouragement among these people to know you’re not alone in this crazy journey we call “being a writer”. Write-ins can do all that – just make sure you hold a party later on in the month so you can focus on becoming friends, as well as writing buddies.

Tags: ,

This entry was posted on Monday, November 17th, 2008 at 2:14 pm and is filed under NaNoWriMo. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One comment


this is really thoughtful, I hope a lot of writers and their characters read it!

November 24th, 2008 at 2:08 am

Leave a reply

Name (*)
Mail (will not be published) (*)