My literary citizenship these days is mostly about organizing write-ins for Barrelhouse. Once or twice a week, we open a chat room where writers can log in and then just…write. Here’s an overview of how it works, and we’ll be doing write-ins until at least the end of November.
(If any of my reasons for liking write-ins work for you — or even if not— consider yourself invited to give it a try. If you don’t like it, that’s cool. But maybe you will?)
Marking out specific time to write.
I wrote about this weird habit of mine not long ago. Something I didn’t mention there: Being a parent was a huge factor in getting it to stick, because it forced me to take a hard look at what was truly important. There are lots of other ways to force yourself to take a hard look at what’s truly important, if years of direct access to Girl Scout cookies doesn’t interest you.
Writing in public places.
People sometimes sneer at this because they think this choice is outward facing. Hey, everyone at Starbucks, look at me! I’m a Writer! But that’s not how it’s ever been for me. I go to Starbucks — or the library, or a diner, or the bookstore with tables — because a big part of my process is to stare off into space. If I’m at home, I’ve seen all of my stare-points before. Distractions like do laundry or get the mail or anxiety du jour easily march to the front of the line. If I’m in public, I look up, I see people drinking coffee or talking or sitting in front of their own laptops. I can’t do laundry, I can’t get the mail, and I remember why I’m there.
All of that said: I haven’t written in an actual public place since January 2020 because, well, you know. Even though I’m vaccinated, I’m in a couple of risk categories, and I also don’t want to be a vector for someone else getting sick. Virtual public places are the solution, for now. I look up, I see other writers in the chat room, and I remember why I’m there.
Working in an environment without assumptions or expectations.
Someday I’ll write a boring and very unpopular manifesto about the notion of “suchandsuch is well deserved,” and it’ll include the annoying phrase “you do not know the oaths others have sworn.” But for now: Public and virtual-public spaces for the actual act of writing are difficult to connect to the parts of the writing life that can be irritating, demoralizing, and/or anxiety-inducing. And that, in turn, frees up room for what’s truly important.
The first Barrelhouse write-in, over a year ago, was an experiment. Would other writers be interested in doing a thing that seems a little weird, even from within our avocational bubble? It turned out that other writers were, and are! Somehow, it helps! I’ll be direct here: the novel I’m working on now got its legs from last year’s write-ins.
Write-ins are a light form of low-stakes time management and accountability. They’re a chance to talk with other writers, hear about what they’re working on, share ideas, and even follow some new Twitterfam. And finishing a write-in means celebrating a little, in a world where celebration can sometimes be hard to find. When my kid played Parks and Rec soccer, one of their favorite parts of the day was going to the deli afterward. I can’t buy you a Mexican Coke and some Skittles, but I can definitely emoji some trophies when time’s up on Sundays at 2pm Eastern, doors open at 1pm, see you soon.