NaNoWriMo and Public Space

It’s November, and I’m doing NaNoWriMo, trying to write 50 000 words of a novel in 1 month. This crazy idea started in 1999 and in the 15 years since, has morphed into a massive online phenomenon.

One thing that draws people to the NaNoWriMo project is the social aspect of what is by nature a very solitary task. Writing is done alone. Writer and written, with very little outside input. People around the writer get tired of hearing of every little problem and question, and writers can then lose motivation and interest. By dedicating a month to the process, hundreds of thousands of people worldwide are writing alongside you. This has spawned a massive forum for sharing all the questions and problems that might be encountered along the way, as well as endless encouragement to finish the first draft without worrying about details that can be fixed later.

These forums have created an enormous online community, and most interestingly for me, has lead to the further creation of regional communities. NaNoWriMo writers located in a specific region (a city, country, state, whatever) have a dedicated sub-forum for sharing local problems, and organizing physical meet-ups and writing events (called Write In’s).

I am fascinated by the process. How did a solitary task like novelling create a massive online community, which then created energetic local groups?  People are meeting up with laptops and notebooks in tow at coffee shops, book stores, and libraries, to sit together and engage in a solitary creative process.  The online community is becoming physical.

This back and forth between online and physical is further blurred by the fact that my local region has a very active chatroom.  So, at these Write In’s, people are talking live, chatting with each other online, and also chatting with people who are at home or elsewhere.  So where is the community?  Is it the forums?  Is it the physical Write In’s?  Is it all of these things?

The ability of the internet to allow people to choose to participate in things allows these relationships and groups to create mixed media public spaces.  The group is not the online forums and chat, nor is it simply the people showing up to Write In’s.  It is all of these things together, with fluid back and forth.  The experience of the community exists in many formats and I think this is something that we will see happening more and more as time goes by.

Public space is no longer simply a physical location.

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