It’s Thursday night as I write this, and I’m still recovering from the annual monstrous feast known as Thanksgiving. It’s not the turkey coma I’m thinking about, though, nor is it the onslaught of the Christmas season. Right now, I’m thinking about write-ins, and how surprisingly effective I find them.
See, until I started doing NaNo last year, I had always considered writing a solitary activity. Sticking words to a page in the correct order to make characters, places and stories is not easy work, and there’s a mythology that has grown up around the act of writing, I think. The idea of a writer, locked away in a garret, creating art one word at a time out of ink and paper (usually to the music of quills scratching) is in some ways the archetype many people have in mind when someone is described as a writer. Consequently, many folks consider writing to be an act that requires solitude.
However, that’s not necessarily so, at least for me. Writing requires focus, to be sure, but solitude isn’t a prerequisite for that. Sometimes, solitude can detract from the focus needed to write, especially if you have a lot of other things to do and all your other projects start clamoring for attention in the silence of aloneness. Much of the time, I write by myself, but having other people around can be a help.
Last night, my local NaNo chapter had a write-in. Three of us showed up, which is about what I expected (it’s a university town, and students get the week off). We sat down and got to work, and I quickly rediscovered the joy of being focused with other people. The sound of other people clacking away, hard at work, makes terrific white noise, and the fact that we didn’t know each other well was an added bonus; it made it easier to get deep into our work. We could ignore each other and not feel bad about it…of course, I usually ignore people and rarely feel bad about it, but I’m getting off-track here.
After a while, we got a rude surprise: the management had told our local liaison that they would be open, but neglected to mention they were closing early. It wasn’t by much, but it was enough to cut our time short. However, things were going so well for two of us that we ended up going to a 24-hour restaurant in town and continuing our work. After a couple of hours, I ended up with about 5,000 words for the night, a total I was pleased with not only for the word count, but for getting an important scene created. It was a satisfying night, and I rarely get that kind of satisfaction in writing—the feeling of achieving a milestone—when I’m working alone.
If you habitually write by yourself, whether it’s in your office early in the morning or at the kitchen table late at night, after the spouse and the kids and the dogs are asleep, you might give writing in a busier location a whirl. Naturally, I can’t promise it’ll work for you; some people really need solitude in order to work. Other people may find that people-watching becomes a more fascinating exercise and go with that. But, if you can take the hustle and bustle of other people moving around and make into background noise, you may find that activity to be, in a strange way, insulating. Whether it’s a coffee shop or a library or a restaurant with Wi-Fi, any location where people interact in a low-key fashion can be quite the boon to writing. If nothing else, you might get some character research out of it, and that’s always useful.