This past Tuesday, I finally summoned my courage and did something I’d been wanting to do since my first NaNoWriMo back in 2006.
I attended a write-in.
You know how it is, the first time you venture forth to take part in some kind of group activity: You feel shy and awkward, not sure if you’ll fit in, afraid you’ll make some kind of gaffe or faux pas that will cause all of the seasoned veterans to regard you with scorn or ridicule. You worry that you read the date or time wrong, and you’ll end up at the wrong place or at the wrong time. You wonder what you’ll do if you show up and it’s clear from the start that everyone there simply doesn’t like you.
Well, okay, maybe you don’t feel all of these things. But I do. Acutely.
Often, when I’m in this sort of a situation, I do what most people do: I call for backup. An intimidating experience somehow becomes less intimidating when you’ve got a good friend (or spousal-unit) by your side.
But in this case, none of my geographically-close friends are doing NaNoWriMo. And Beloved Husband, when queried, was afraid he’d distract me. (He was also afraid he’d be bored, since he’d more than likely be the only person there not writing.) He’s probably right on both counts.
So on Tuesday, with my netbook bag slung over my shoulder and my car keys clenched in my sweaty palm, I approached my local Panera Bread. I was heartened by the sight of a bunch of people clustered around a table near the back of the restaurant, heads bent over glowing laptop screens. Doing my best to look casual, I strolled to the back.
“Is this the write-in?”
“Yep. Pull up a chair.”
I did, shoving my chair under the end of a string of small tables that had been pushed together. (I later figured out that the reason for the cozy configuration was so that folks who needed it could reach the power strip plugged in overhead.) Then I went and got some food for myself–and some herbal tea–and came back.
Everyone else was focusing intently on their computer screens, earbuds stuffed in their ears, so I sat down as quietly as I could and whipped out my netbook. Everyone else was working on larger laptop models, so I felt a little outclassed, but I like writing on my netbook. It’s small and light and easy to carry around.
I quickly powered it up; while I was waiting, I shoved a bite or two of my sandwich into my mouth. I decided against getting out my headphones (my playlist is on the desktop computer at home; I haven’t loaded it onto my netbook yet, but I will). Then I, too, started tapping quietly away at my keyboard.
Twenty minutes later, everyone finally came up for air. We chatted a little about how our writing was going, and how many words we’d written while we were there. (My 350 was pretty pathetic compared to some of the others’ word counts, but I’d arrived late, and was trying to eat while writing, a process that never works very efficiently for me, since I touch-type.) But after only a few minutes, everyone was back at it again.
Tappitta tappitta tappitta. I finished my half-sandwich, started my half-salad, which I acknowledged was a strategic mistake. Too hard to eat while writing. Next time, I’ll do soup and a half-sandwich; I can spoon soup in pretty easily. But I was amazed at how quickly the words started to pile up. Before I knew it, I had left my 1,667 daily word quota in the dust and was pushing 2,000. Nicholas Fletcher was having an awkward conversation with Professor Runkle (president of MIT in 1875). And I was actually enjoying myself.
Everyone came up for air at 20-minute intervals or so. We exchanged snippets of information about what we were writing (I admitted to writing a story that takes place in the Victorian era, and pointed out that the flowery language is great for piling up a word count). Three of the other eight people there admitted that they had burned down entire villages (in their stories) in the interest of keeping their plots moving. I was forced to admit that I had no plans to burn anything down, but I did have a character who had been eaten by a tiger, which they all thought was pretty good.
By about 7:45, writing had ceased completely, and we were all chatting. I learned that the young lady sitting across from me, whom I had taken to be a college student, was actually only fifteen. Most of the others admitted to being twenty-something, though the one man there said he was thirty-five. I’m guessing I was the “old lady” of the group, but didn’t confirm it.
Since the restaurant closed at 8:00, we had to pack up and get out soon after that. But I had survived, and I had even managed to write about 1,600 words while I was sitting there (bringing my word count for the day in at about 2,200 words). Not too shabby!
So yes. It wasn’t so scary after all.
I think I’ll go back next week.