Writer Becca Patterson, aka Mreauow, is one of three Municipal Liaisons for National Novel Writing Month in the Minnesota: Twin Cities Region. In this three-part interview series, she talks about writing in community in November and year round.
E. P. Beaumont: So, people think of writing as a solitary activity, but you (we) advocate doing it in groups. Could you tell me a little bit about your journey as a writer, and what got you interested in National Novel Writing Month?
Becca Patterson: I started writing in second grade when my teacher handed me my first journal. The weekly assignment was to write five pages. Most of my classmates groaned (“how are we going to be able to write that much?”) I however saw it as a great opportunity.
I wrote more than I had to most weeks and by the end of the year I was the only member of my class to use up more than one journal. I did the normal things like writing about what was going on in my day and of course all the “helpful” assignments (about 4 pages worth) from the teachers. But I also started writing fiction. This didn’t go over so well because my teacher didn’t know what to do with that. I ended up spending a lot of time in the school counselor’s office that year.
Ever since then I’ve been writing in one form or another. It’s what I do to make all the stress of daily life worth it. As long as I can tell my stories, it’s all good.
I first heard about NaNoWriMo in 2000, the second year of it. Back then it was just this crazy idea that some people had to write. I couldn’t join then because I was still in school for Interpreting and November was when all the big projects and midterms happened. But I kept it as a goal. As soon as I graduated I was going to do it. I watched it grow and grow and then saw the first hint that people doing NaNo were getting published. By the time I was able to join in 2007 it was a huge deal.
Of course I missed the point for most of that first month. I sat at home with my computer telling my husband to leave me alone, and was actually rather miserable. Why did so many people have such a good time with this, I thought. So I went onto the site and discovered write-ins. In the last week of November 2007, I went to 7 write-ins. My word count jumped from 40,000 to 75,000 and I was a much happier writer.
The next year I planned on the write-ins and looked forward to meeting up with my new writing friends. Then in 2010, I became friends with out Municipal Liaisons – Nell and Theresa. Theresa was thinking about retiring from being an ML and encouraged me to step up. I did. I found that helping other people figure out what this wild and crazy adventure was all about was even better than just going along for the ride.
E. P. Beaumont: What happens at a write-in? What are the rules? And why does it work so well for so many writers?
Becca Patterson: A write-in is when a group of writers gather for the purpose of writing. While they are writing in the same space, they are all writing their own stories. There aren’t any hard and fast rules, but generally, you shouldn’t disrupt the writing of the others. However, if you get stuck, you can ask for help or just complain about the silly thing that your characters just did.
I think that it works so well because you are kind of holding each other responsible. When you are at home alone, there’s no one to notice how few words you are actually writing. There’s no one to remind you that you have a goal to reach and washing the dishes (however important that may be) isn’t going to get you there. When you are at a coffee shop, the others might notice that you are playing solitaire instead of writing.
The other thing that works are the word races and wars. A word race is when two or more writers agree to write 500 (or whatever number) words, and the first person to hit that goal wins. A war is when they decide that they are going to write as fast as they can for some number of minutes and the person with the most words when the timer goes off wins. These are two great ways to add words to your draft in a short amount of time.
E. P. Beaumont: Now I’m going to turn it around. You’ve talked about what happens at a write-in. Can you talk about what doesn’t happen there–which is to say, what a write-in is not?
Becca Patterson: That’s kind of hard. There are lots of things that don’t happen at a write in (well most of the time). Such as sex, drugs and rock and roll. Write-ins as they are practiced in NaNo are about working on your own project, so you don’t see beta reading or collaborative works going on. There aren’t a lot of long drawn out conversations, although chatting does occur between bouts of intense writing. Usually people who want to talk take themselves away from the write-in (to another table or outside) to have their conversation and return to the group when they are ready to write.
E. P. Beaumont: How many write-ins do you usually attend during NaNo?
Becca Patterson: As many as my husband will let me.
During the week I’ll hit at least three sometimes four. I have to be home at least one night.
On weekends our region tends to have large scale events that I attend as much as I can.
More on these writing events in Part 2!