It’s over. The Word-God is sated, the Panic Jar has been put back in the darkened, blood-stained cave where it once came from. So how was it for everyone?
The Brighton Wrimos
The Brighton Wrimos have been established for some time, but it’s only been the last couple of years that Fred and I have been in charge. The previous Wrimos; Cerys & Ellie, set a great precedent with their administration and that helped solidify us as a group not only in November but the whole year round.
I’m not entirely sure how the municipal liaisons run their communities but we’ve had a few mainstays in ours. There’s a frankly antiquated chat site called Chatzy which we use so that anyone can access it even with old tech. There are write-ins both on and offline. So what did we do?
This year we had a virtual write-in every Tuesday. This meant that people could use the chat room to take part in sprints (timed races to see who could make the most words in normally 10-15 minute stretches). Former ML Cerys and BlackJack were both fantastic at running these kinds of sprints. In fact BlackJack ran a few three-sprint hours in the chat room throughout the month irrespective of the day. My normal writing group, The Plot Bunnies meet every few Tuesdays so I moderated on my off-weeks and Fred moderated when I was Bunnying.
On Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons we met in person, something I know is often daunting for writers. The crowd was lovely, however. We huddled round our laptops, running sprints, working and distracting each other. There’s always the paradox of the write-in that we seem to be chatting all the time but words are still happening. It’s pretty impressive to witness. There are quiet times all you can hear is the gentle clattering of keys tapping away, broken up only when someone passes by and everyone looks up unaware of whether friend or foe has approached the herd. There were also stickers for people passing every thousand words, the Panic Jars and punchcards for our achievement system, but more on those soon…
On Fridays we ran a NaNoWriMo social event where people could relax, drink and play games. Anything but writing, pretty much, so we could de-stress from the week’s activity.
In the middle of the month I ran a marathon in the chat room. It was a full Saturday of writing from 11am until 8pm. Each hour there would be a challenge for anyone in the chat room and we’d try and complete them. I ran it last year, too, when I decided to start adding optional challenges most of which the group took up. There’s flavour text in the style of a pub crawl, but with words. This year I picked a time travel theme with us going back from the Restaurant at the End of the Universe and ending at the Monolith from 2001. It was manic in places, but we wrote a total of 59,194 words in one day, collectively.
The NaNoWriMo forums have specific areas dedicated to each community so Brighton & Hove had its’ own forum which we used throughout the month. I started off with questions about people’s books like the setting, the characters and so on, to try and get people pumped for their work and thinking about the project ahead. During the month we added things like a ‘character graveyard’ to celebrate and lament character deaths. Then there were weekly challenges where we gave the Wrimos a prompt to fit into their story and a place to post a short excerpt of their work featuring the element used. This year we had phobias, Fiasco-style chaos, making up a word and sport (the latter labelled the ‘writer’s bane challenge’).
After NaNoWriMo 2014, Fred and I noticed the audience on our forums and the chat rooms were not our audience on Facebook. All of the communities are great, but there are some who stick to just one place. To mitigate this, we made sure to put information about gatherings not only on a Google Calendar (and link to maps for the venues) but we also made events on the Brighton Wrimos Facebook Group to make sure people knew when things were happening and where they were. It was definitely noticeable how many more people came that never checked the forums or chatroom but were aware through Facebook. Some of them crossed over and joined us and some did, just to get the their punch cards filled in. Speaking of which…
I’m a gamer, Fred is a gamer. A lot of the Wrimos are, too. So we decided to employ that wonderful, if meaningless Skinner Box system of achievements.
This is another holdover from the original Brighton Wrimos, although we’ve changed it a little each year. Each Wrimo who attends an event (or asks online) gets a punchcard. Then when they hit the achievements they get to hole punch that part of the card. The achievements are partially things you’d do anyway in NaNoWriMo (every increment of 10,000 words up to 50k), productivity-based (sprints, having a 5k day) and socially-based (going to events, posting on our various outlets). Because it is known that we have had some people with social anxiety or really busy lives, all of these were achievable without having to turn up in person to an event.
This year we had a couple of extras. There were optional achievements mentioned on the forums; Writing 10,000 words in a day, designing a cover on the site, taking part in all four weekly challenges on the forums and drawing a result from the adult panic jar.
We also have badges! Never let it be said that we aren’t a fickle lot. All it takes to win us over are stickers, googly eyes, notepads, pens, caffeine and sugar. For the sprints we had a bag of glorious tat as prizes but the one thing I couldn’t get were badges. The cost of NaNoWriMo badges were prohibitively high for extremely few. When one of my gaming group generously offered to make up badges I spoke with one of our more artistically-inclined Wrimos, Rosie, who designed these:
Aren’t they great? Anyone who punched their whole card received a badge as a prize. Yay, prizes!
Then there’s the beast…
The Panic Jar is something we’ve always had in the Brighton Wrimos. I’ve looked online and the only references I can see are in our community and in an article our own BlackJack made to explain it. You can find that here.
It’s a collection of ideas from writers, all made on little scraps of paper. They’re prompts, lines of dialogue or elements to add to your story. The jar follows us to all events and it always gets added to. There are some prompts in the jar from before I started doing NaNoWriMo six years ago. In theory these are to help, but the Brighton Wrimos like a challenge and often add strange things in there. Or rules, like, “Draw two more.” If you pull from the jar, you have to use it in your story. Or a side story. But use it. Anyone can add to the jar, anyone can pull from the jar. It’s become an essential part of NaNoWriMo in our community. The jar has broken multiple times though; we’re currently on the fourth jar which has been labelled as Tom Baker because well, we’re all massive nerds.
Because some of the suggestions are quite adult and Brighton Wrimos is an all-ages group, we have an Adult Panic Jar, which is the Peter Capaldi jar. Our Peter Capaldi has googly eyes though and likes to stare at the Wrimos, daring them to pull from the jar.
So there you have it, another year down and some great fun experiences. A lot of dead characters, a draft which I don’t hate but definitely needs to be redone, an ungodly amount of coffee imbibed and a vast amount of writing done by my beloved community. Congratulations, Brighton Wrimos!
Pirate Fluxx at a pub chill-out after a write-in. Not really writing-based, but we got to do pirate accents.
I have no idea whether this was an intentional error or not for the social.
Wrimos deep in concentration at the first write-in. Or sleeping, I’m not sure which.