Recently, Tulpa Magazine sat down with Alexander Barratt, Caitlin O’Callaghan and Simone Corletto, Adelaide’s municipal liaisons for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). They talked about their personal experiences writing 50,000 words in a month, and gave some advice for aspiring writers looking to try NaNoWriMo for the first time this November.
How long have you been doing NaNoWriMo?
Simone: I think I’ve been doing NaNoWriMo for about six years. I’ve completed five times, I’ve won five times.
Alex: This will be my sixth time with in the Adelaide NaNoWriMo community. The first two I just tried it by myself. So this will be my eighth time and I’ve won it three times.
Caitlin: I am reasonably certain I joined the NaNoWriMo website a couple of days before Alex. I didn’t properly compete until last year, when I won Camp NaNo and then NaNoWriMo, because I didn’t know anyone and I was too scared to do it by myself.
What made you start doing NaNoWriMo and what keeps you coming back?
Simone: I heard about NaNoWriMo like nine years ago but it was during my science degree so I had exams during November, which meant I could never do it. I’ve always loved writing since high school and when I started (studying) creative writing I was like, ‘this is the year, I’m gonna actually do NaNo’. It was like a really great way to meet other writers and the write-ins were so fantastic for focus and getting so much done. I was able to write more than I’d written in the entire year leading up to NaNoWriMo, so yeah, I just fell in love with the atmosphere and the people.
Alex: I first heard about it online somewhere. I honestly don’t remember where. Why do I keep coming back? I think the people. I wrote 15,000 words in my first NaNo in the Adelaide community and that’s more than I had ever written ever before on anything. And then I just kept coming back. The following year I won, so I got my 50,000 and kept going.
Caitlin: Yeah, definitely the people is what keeps me going. I think I found a link to NaNo somewhere online and then proceeded to freak out and not do it for the next seven years. I met some really cool people out one night and they said, ‘you should do Camp NaNoWriMo’, and I was like ‘what’s that?’. And yeah, here I am.
As Municipal Liaisons (MLs), what do you do?
Simone: We basically run and organise a lot of the events leading up to and during November and also a little bit afterwards. We’re kind of like the social secretaries of the community. I’ve just started doing it this year and so far it’s been a lot of brainstorming dates, finding times when we’re free.
Alex: This is my third year being an ML. It’s mainly organising events, having opportunities for people to get together and write and engage with each other in the real world. Making sure the regional forum stays civil, and any other digital platforms that we may be running for the region. Having lots of different events, write-ins, plot-ins, and social events to keep people sane during NaNo, because it is stressful at times.
Caitlin: A lot of emails, and pretty much what the others have said, where we’re there to organise things and keep them running.
Adelaide has a pretty strong NaNoWriMo community, what are its best features?
Simone: I’ve been told that Adelaide has a really great writing community in general. There’s a lot of people that are really passionate about writing and writing professionally, and even writing just for fun. I think things like the Writer’s Centre, and also just NaNoWriMo, is such a big hand at bringing people together. And you know, the more people there are, the funner it is. I feel like we’re good at the people side and cause we’re a small ML team, we’re good at mobilising. Some larger regions may have a lot more area to cover, so it’s hard to bring everyone in to the one place, whereas Adelaide’s fairly centralised. Unless you’re living very far out north or south it’s probably easy to get to the city. I feel that helps.
Alex: I agree. Adelaide’s relatively small so it allows us to keep people in the region. I know of people who have left the physical region, but they’re still in our digital region and they contribute from elsewhere, because they still love the community.
Simone: We do try to keep a digital presence as much as we can for the more remote NaNoers, with the live chat and stuff. And we’re doing virtual write-ins as well this year. So people can watch a live-stream and chat in the comments, in partnership with the YA Jungle.
Caitlin: And we don’t judge what you’re going to write. If you want to write and you’ve got the passion for it we’re here to support you with that. If someone wants to write fan fiction, we’re here for that. As long as you’ve got the drive and the passion for words, we want to support. We’re not going to be like, ‘ugh, that’s not real writing’. Because all writing is real writing. And we’d rather promote the love for that instead of trying to pigeonhole people or turn them away.
Simone: In fact, the weirder you write, probably the better it is, the more fun you’ll have. Don’t feel like you have to be super literary. We had a weird chicken erotica in space going on. It was hilarious. If it’s a weird idea, go for it.
What are the benefits of being part of a writing community?
(In unison): Accountability.
Caitlin: The accountability. When I was writing by myself there was no one there to be like, ‘you should finish that’. Except my mum. Having friends who write and knowing other people who write. When you’re having a bad writing day they’ll suggest other ways to do it, or they’ll celebrate the day you wrote 5000 words in two hours. It’s good to know you’re not alone.
Alex: A couple of years ago I was sort of mentoring someone. This was, I think, my second year involved in the community, and it was her first year. She wrote 9000 words on the last day just to finish the 50,000. We were cheering her all the way. It’s why I decided to become an ML. Just so I could help other people get through that, or suggest ways through things.
Simone: Yeah, I think it’s one of the best bits because you’re all achieving the same thing regardless of your skill level. We’re all cheerleaders for each other. We want everyone to do the best they can. And I think everyone’s got a really positive attitude towards it, so even if you don’t get to 50,000 words, any words you do in NaNoWriMo is words you didn’t have before. That’s still an achievement and we’ll still celebrate you. But if you want that extra cheer squad to get you over the line we’ll also do that. Everyone’s just really community minded.
What are your thoughts on being writers in Adelaide, as opposed to one of the ‘big’ cities like Melbourne or Sydney?
Simone: I feel like we’re a lot more genre friendly. I know there’s a big literary scene in Melbourne and I think not everyone is into that, and that’s okay. I think people feel more free to just write the things they truly enjoy, regardless of how crazy they are.
Alex: I’ve never really written with the intention of publishing anything. I have literally never finished any work of fiction that I’ve done in the last ten years. So, I write for fun. I enjoy doing NaNo, I don’t normally write much throughout the rest of the year, other than occasionally trying Camp NaNos. I save all my creativity for NaNo and then fill the month. So when it comes to other places, I don’t know.
Caitlin: One of the really good things about the size of Adelaide versus somewhere like Melbourne or Sydney, is that there is a focus on the arts within the state. The writers aren’t really gatekeepers. You can talk to any other South Australian author, whether you’re published or not, and they’re happy to talk to you. They’re happy to share their experiences and they’re not going to tell you that you can’t do it.They’re all really welcoming, which is lovely.
Any advice for newcomers/prospective NaNo’ers this year?
Alex: First of all, work out if you’re a planner or a pantser. Or a plantser, if you’re a hybrid. Because, if you’re a planner and you haven’t planned, you may find it difficult. I did.
Simone: Just remember that the only real rule in NaNoWriMo is that you have to write 50,000 words during the month of NaNoWriMo. It doesn’t mean that if you get really keen for your idea that you can’t start beforehand and count the words from that point. That’s okay. If you handwrite, that’s okay. It’s your own work, you can do whatever you want. Sure, the intention is to start a novel, but if you’d rather write the next 50,000 words of a thing that you’re working on, or fan fiction, like that’s all fine. It’s okay. Write what you want to write. As long as it’s the numbers in the timeframe.
Caitlin: Have fun. Don’t worry about the quality of your words, it’s the quantity. I remember the first few times I got paralysed by fear because I was like, ‘oh this sentence isn’t good enough, it’s a terrible sentence’. Yes, it was a terrible sentence, but just get the words down. Don’t worry about how polished they are, just get them down and you can fix them later.
Alex: If you get stuck just write ‘ninjas attack’ and write the ninjas attacking. And then keep writing. Don’t stop writing when you hit the wall. Just keep writing. Find something to write about.
Simone: You don’t have to be chronological either. If there are scenes you’re looking forward to, and you’re really struggling where you currently are, just skip ahead. Making things in order is what the next draft is for.
Caitlin: Working full time you can still write a novel, you just do have to prioritise your writing over your TV watching, or whatever the vice you’ve got. But you can do it, you may just need to rearrange something for a month.
What are the best places to write in Adelaide?
Simone: I think my favourite is Cibo Espresso on Rundle street. It’s really great because upstairs it’s usually pretty quiet and there are power points so you can plug in your laptop. They don’t care how long you stay as long as you buy a couple of coffees. It’s my favourite place to go. Plus it’s pretty close to buses and car parking.
Alex: In 2014 I made a plan to myself to write in as many places outside of my house as possible. I wrote in fifteen other places other than my house, including various write-ins. I found that writing in parks is kind of fun. I did a day when I went to Bonython Park and just sat there on a bench. And somehow connected to the Adelaide free Wi-Fi. I assume there was like a router in the tree, because I was literally under a tree nowhere near anything that looked like a router. I quite like writing in parks, if it’s a nice day.
Caitlin: I’ve done a surprising amount of writing in either cafes or bars. By myself– because it’s not sad when you have a beer and a book. Basically, I find anywhere with a bit of background noise, I find the ambient noise is very productive.
Anything you want to add?
Simone: Join the local group. We’re really friendly and we’ll try to connect with you any way we can. Online or in person.
Alex: If you ever wanted to write something, just start.
Logo Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month
Thanks to Alex, Caitlin and Simone for taking the time to speak to us.
You can find Alex on Instagram
If you would like to get involved with NaNoWriMo in Adelaide you can connect and find out about upcoming events on the Australia :: Adelaide region page (https://nanowrimo.org/regions/australia-adelaide).
Interview conducted and transcribed by Lisandra Linde