National Novel Writing Month is all about putting your head down and cranking out as many words as you can, but it can still be fun to make it a social experience, too. A write-in is just what you need to keep you and your fellow scribblers motivated. Here's how to set one up.
Photo by Anne-Lise Heinrichs.
This year, I will write my tenth terrible novel. I do this every November; it's part of the NaNoWriMo tradition. I've never published these novels, but I grow as a writer and as a human being every time I write one. Let me tell you why it's worthwhile.
Choose a Place With A Lot of Places to Plug in and Sit
First thing's first, you need to pick a venue for your write-in. Wherever you do it - a cafe, library or someone's house (which is what I do) - make sure it's a place with a lot of places to sit and write, as well as a lot of places to plug in laptops and tablets. No matter where you end up choosing, make sure you have some power strips on hand, and maybe an extra charger in case someone forgets to bring theirs. No excuses for anyone to not be writing!
Also, if you do decided to meet up in a public place, you absolutely must let the establishment know you have a group of people coming in at a specific time. That gives them time to set up and prepare. And if you'll be at a place that sells food or drink, encourage everyone to buy something. It's only right.
Lay Out Some Inspiring Books and Writing References
At the last write-in I attended, the host had pulled out all of her books on writing she could find and stacked them up in the middle of the big table everyone wrote at. There were books on story structure, character development, grammar, and even references for names. It was a great idea, and it made me realise that sometimes writer's block can be shattered with a quick peek in a reference book. It isn't a bad idea to have a book or print out of nothing but story prompts either. A little nudge can make all the difference.
Have Everyone Share What They're Working on
The best part of a write-in is getting to talk to others about your project, and hear what they're working on. To kick off your session, have everyone go around and introduce themselves and briefly explain their story. Questions and discussion are encouraged as long as things are kept positive and nobody is questioning creative directions. The idea is to get everyone motivated, not make people feel bad about what they're writing.
Provide a Simple Meal or Easy to Munch on Snacks
Writers need fuel. If you're at a cafe or restaurant, encourage people to buy things from the establishment. But if you're at home, provide a meal that's quick and easy to eat while you all work. Pizza is an easy go-to - all you need is plates and napkins - but it can be something lighter if that's people want. Any dish that can be eaten without a bunch of extra utensils or special actions is what you want to aim for.
Snacks are also good to have around as long as they aren't too messy. Something salty and crunchy is perfectly satisfying, just skip the chips and crackers that leave traces of themselves on people's hands. It's hard to keep typing when you constantly have cheese dust on your fingertips. Pretzels, almonds and grapes are solid options.
Julian Gough, Irish novelist, memoirist, poet and playwright, gives densely packed advice in his essay How To Edit Your Own Lousy Writing. He explains the 'job' that a first, second and third draft each do, editing a hypothetical scene as a concrete example.
Play Some Writing Games to Get the Creative Juices Flowing
The hardest part about writing is often getting started. You know what story you want to tell, but you don't know how to begin. Writing games can help - or at least get you in the right mindset so you can break through that barrier more easily. Here are a few writing game examples:
- Word War: NaNoWriMo is all about getting that word count, so this game is a flat out race of who can write the most words in a certain amount of time. It can be based on generic writing prompts that are handed out to everyone, or it can be part of your novel's word count. Set a timer for 15 minutes and see who comes out on top.
- Story Objects: Have a pile of paper slips with an object written on each one. People have to choose a slip randomly and find a way to incorporate that object into the section of the story they're working on. I often find giving myself another problem to solve in a scene makes it more fun to write. And when you're having fun with your writing, it usually makes it more fun to read.
- Share-agraph: At a random point in the evening, tell everyone to stop writing (shouting "pencils down!" is optional). At that point, each writer has to read their last complete paragraph out loud to the group. It's always interesting to hear what other people are writing, and sometimes inspiration can strike while you listen. Nobody has to read if they don't want to.
No matter what games you choose to play, I recommend having some very basic prizes to really get people in the spirit. Pens, notepads, sticky notes, reference books and other writing-focused gifts are ideal. And don't play all of the games at once! Use them as breaks throughout the write-in so people use them as a time to refresh their minds with a fresh injection of motivation.
Have you hosted a write-in for NaNoWriMo? What are your recommendations and favourite activities?