For my Overland Subscriberthon post this year, I wanted to raise and discuss the importance of writing community. Here at Overland, I have always felt a sense of community; a place where I can share my thoughts and engage in hearty political debate. A place where I can learn, make mistakes, reflect. We may be a small group, but there’s a community spirit, and we are all contributing to Melbourne’s political landscape and culture.
But what about novel writers? We are so isolated, in our little offices, typing away. I’ve been writing novels for six years now and I have to say, it does get pretty lonely. You procrastinate a lot. Surf the net. Watch the walls. That’s why I was ecstatic when my friend told me about National Novel Writing month. The basic principle is to start a new novel and update your word count progress throughout the month on the NaNo website. The total of each region, in my case, Melbourne, is ranked against other regions from around the world to determine the NaNo winner for 2010. You can work on your new novel anywhere you like, but for those writers craving a sense of community, organisations from cafés to corporate businesses have opened their doors and allowed writers to gather on their premises, network and write. Every day there is a NaNo gathering so it’s as simple as logging on and checking where to go to for the day and off you go.
What’s great about NaNo is a writer has a place to go, for a set amount of time, say three hours, where they have no other choice but to write. Not only that, but being in the same space as other writers, and watching them frantically type away on their laptops motivates you to also do the same. At the first NaNo event I attended, in an office building, complete with ergonomic chairs, kitchen and snacks offered by other NaNo participants, I wrote five thousand words in three hours. Five thousand words! There’s no way I would have been able to write that many words in my home in three hours – three weeks maybe, not three hours. I have only been to four NaNo gatherings this month, but in that time I have written ten thousand words of my new novel. (Ten thousand!)
Writing at NaNo gatherings reminds me of trips I have taken with other writers for a few days to the coast with the sole purpose of writing. From morning to night, we sit and write and write and then have readings in the night. On those sorts of trips, I always got a lot done, and I felt a very strong sense of community. Participating in NaNo has really highlighted, for me, the importance of community in writing; how by nourishing and supporting community, we are, in a way, contributing to culture. NaNo is free to take part in, and organisers volunteer their time. But wouldn’t it be great if NaNo was an ongoing thing? If not NaNo, something similar? Being the UNESCO city of literature, surely some funding could go into holding a writing day once a month. Maybe on the first Saturday of every month, the Wheeler Center could open their doors and allow any writer to come in with their laptop and write all day. That way, writers were not only motivated to write, they would feel a sense of community, while at the same time, contributing to Melbourne’s vibrant literary culture.
What I’ve realised through writing for Overland and, more recently, with NaNo is that community is not only motivating, it’s powerful. One person doing something alone isn’t the same as a group of people doing something together. So get on the phone, log on to your computer and subscribe to Overland, so we can keep the Overland spirit going years into the future.