It is no secret to regular visitors of my website that taking part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) was both one of the hardest and best things I have ever done. (You can read more about that incredible journey, including excerpts from my novel, here and here).
Part of what made it possible was regular social media contact with other writers who had also been mad enough to try and write 50,000 words in 30 days. As the month progressed I realised I wasn’t alone going through periods of joy and doubt as our chosen projects threw up surprises and barriers along the way. The key to that discovery was my decision to connect with fellow Wrimos on social media. Whether it was a Twitter guided writing sprint or simply sharing experiences in the Facebook group – these strangers kept me going.
When I decided to write a story about the importance of writing groups for the literary magazine Writer’s Edit (for the full article click here), I decided to speak with one of the people responsible for bringing NaNoWriMo participants together in my region. His name is Nick Hudson and in this interview he explains just how important these connections have been for him as well. Enjoy!
You have recently been involved in the international National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). What was your role?
The official term that the NaNoWriMo crew use is Municipal Liaison, which is fancy talk for coordinator. I was one of two MLs, running alongside the person that filled the role last year. Our basic job is setting up events, answering questions and doing our best to make the experience easier for people than it would be on their own. It’s very straightforward in what it entails, but still asks for a lot of your time.
You have taken part before, but not as a facilitator. How was the experience different this time?
The real difference is in the amount of time it consumes. If you’re doing NaNoWriMo as a writer, you can more or less decide on the day, and some people have started it once November was underway. For coordinating, the NaNoWriMo calendar begins much earlier in the year – applications for the position took place in June, and event planning started in early September.
Handling questions from people that need help or directions, as well as providing progressive updates to people on what events are underway – that all takes away from writing time, and as an ML you do feel an obligation to the other participants, which means attending more events and being a good example.
There were 1108 people registered in the Sydney area alone. How useful was social media in connecting and keeping this group motivated?
Social media is fantastic for connecting people – the NaNoWriMo site is good, but one of the issues with it is that outside of November, it’s not a part of people’s habits. Checking Facebook or Twitter, those are things that people are doing anyway because they have the habit. It’s especially great for updates about events, as the forums on the NaNoWriMo site itself don’t lend quite as well to last minute changes or arrangements.
Many people that do it don’t interact with the site, nor with social media. There are 385 members in the Facebook group and 337 followers on the Twitter account, with definite crossover between the two lists. That in itself means that your only method of reaching most participants is with the regional emails that are sent out, but there’s no way of telling how many get it. We can’t reach everybody, but for those we can, social media is a must.
How did the way you used Facebook differ from the Twitter experience?
Frequency is a big one. Twitter is great for once-off ideas or updates, but very few people interact with tweets posted. Each tweet also needs to be whole in its content, even when part of a sequence, but with the limitation of characters it isn’t easy. That did lead to a few silly tweets intended to remind people that writing is meant to be fun, as well as hard.
The Facebook group tends more toward people posting their own queries or statements on the group wall, with an occasional update from the MLs about events that are coming, or resources that we find. It’s much more suitable for discussions, where Twitter is better for broadcasts. A few people specifically posted when they ran into plot walls and asked the group for ideas on how they could move forward with the story in a way that made sense, so I tried my best to be involved in those discussions too.
What sort of reaction did you receive from participants to your social media presence?
It was quite positive. A few people expressed that the updates throughout the month were helpful to them, or that it made a difference. You never know exactly what did it and you hope that you were helpful to everybody that you could have been, at some point over the course of a month. It’s gladdening to hear when you have been.
Were you surprised by the reaction?
I’m always surprised when I’m helpful! That’s especially true when you have such a wide range of people participating, some coming to writing as something they want to do for themselves for the very first time, and with others that have been doing it for a living for years. To have something to offer both ends of that spectrum is humbling.
How do you think social media is changing the way writers develop in the early stages of their journey?
It’s great for keeping in touch with others, and being able to talk to other writers that your social circles might not bring you to. Twitter is especially great for reaching out to authors that you’ve admired for years, and you’ll often get replies from them. It’s also a lot easier to be noticed by virtue of interacting with people more.
It can also be a double-edged sword, as the early stages are when I think a writer needs to find their natural rhythm. There is a lot of writing advice on the internet and much of it gets repeated as mantras across social media, seeming as though they’re unalterable rules that must always be obeyed.
Learning the established rules is important for the sake of understanding why they exist before purposely breaking them, but the trap is that a new writer might adopt methods that are unnatural to them, and be deterred from writing as a result. This is especially true when many people repeating the advice state it as a one-true-way. There are many roads to writing, and they’re all equally valid.
You also held write-ins where people could gather in person, including one on the final day of NaNoWriMo. How much of a difference did those meeting make to the writers who attended?
For those that attend, it gives them a level of accountability – there is undoubtedly a social aspect to the write-ins, as there would be any time you put two or more people with a common interest in the same room – but everyone is there to write. When you go, you can feel the pressure to write because it’s what everyone else is doing, and you’re specifically there for that reason.
It’s a lot easier to find other things to do if you write at home. There will always be more cleaning or chores to be done, people will drop by or ask for help with something, and you have a wide array of books and movies you’ve been meaning to catch up on. At a write-in, you can only order so many pancakes before there’s nothing left to do but write.
Knowing you’re not alone, being able to discuss your story in a welcoming environment, and sitting beside people that you don’t have to explain why you write to, all makes you feel part of something bigger.
Writing can be a very lonely and difficult journey. What advice do you have for writers just starting out?
Reach out to others. Not every writer wants to talk about it, but there are many that do. One of the things that people discovered doing NaNoWriMo this year, is that there’s lots of people just like them, who all want to talk about writing with someone, who go through periods of low confidence in their writing, but who persist with writing through the doubt and worry.
Also write as yourself. Don’t try to sound like your favourite authors, as you have your own way of expression that is something special in its own right. You won’t actually see it, as anything that comes naturally to us feels as though it can’t be special, but it will be to those that read it. If it turns out terrible, it can always be fixed later, but you need to write something before it can be fixed.
Is there anything else you would like to share about your NaNo experience?
As much work as it is, both in organising and writing, it’s very rewarding. You get to meet people you would probably never interact with if it wasn’t for writing, because you all come together with a common interest. If you participate, you write, and for some, more than you might have on your own. It’s not easy and does get draining toward the end, but also reinforces the habit of writing each day, showing that even a few pages every day can get you to a first draft. There are worlds in my head that I only know because of NaNo, and for that I’m ever thankful.
To visit Nick’s blog, click here