Cover Photo: Nilufer Gadgieva / Flickr
Nilufer Gadgieva / Flickr

Catapult Interns on the Benefits of Communal Writing

In honor of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), Catapult interns share their experiences with communal writing.

In November, writers worldwide participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), an attempt to complete a 50,000 word novel in a single month. We are almost halfway through November now, so that means many novel drafts are well underway!

Whether you complete 50,000 words of a novel or not, the main point is that the project reminds you to make writing a part of your everyday routine. A unique aspect of NaNoWriMo is the community of writers that it builds, creating a sense of responsibility to continue writing while comparing your word count to others’.

Below, in honor of NaNoWriMo, Catapult interns share their experiences with communal writing, and some of their strategies for getting those words on the page.

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I've found that there's a certain kind of comfort and understanding I can only get from other writers. I've forged some lifelong friendships out of mutual late-night "please read this and tell me I'm not ruining my life" emails. Worse comes to worst, there's no one better to get a post-rejection beer with than another writer.

An excellent accountability strategy is to tell your large extended family you're writing a book, because then you'll field questions about your draft's progress from now until the end of eternity. More seriously, the most effective way I write is by taking my routine seriously. I'm not entirely sold on the "write every day" credo (Elisa Gabbert's recent column really resonated), but I do need consistency. Thus, I schedule a few hours a week for writing and I try to protect that time at all costs. That doesn't necessarily mean I'm cranking out thousands of words. Sometimes I reread favorite books, sometimes I aimlessly free-write, and sometimes I actually edit my manuscript. Regardless, it's when I'm fully focused on being writerly, whatever that may mean that day.

Word counts and deadlines got me to finish the first draft of my novel; making that draft into a full-realized book, however, has required a gentler approach. Someone once told me that writing is a practice of endurance, and I try to remind myself of that whenever I'm tinkering with word choices instead of rewriting entire chapters. So, consistency but not rigidity. It's a marathon, not a sprint. But try telling that to my ninety-two-year-old grandmother.

—Kathleen Boland, Design & Marketing Intern

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For me, writing is all about community. Maybe that is because I consider myself a fairly young writer, but it’s also about what’s gratifying to me. I think that as one grows as a writer, community is almost impossible to avoid. Which is a nice thing when you think about it. All of my best friends are writers in some form or another. I really can only think of a small handful of people in my life that aren’t writers and they’re mostly family. I think that, as cliche as it may sound, your people will find you.

I focus mostly on poetry and nonfiction, though I do write fiction sometimes. I have never done NaNoWriMo, but I have tried to do NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month). I failed. Miserably. It happens every time I try to do something super-intensive that has a lot of forced deadlines.

The thing that works best for me is being motivated by showing friends, classmates, workshop members, and mentors my work. I take a lot of workshops and classes, like the ones here at Catapult, ahem, and that really helps me work towards a tangible goal. I also do a lot of open mics and slams, and that always motivates me to polish my poetry. Anything that gives me an audience willing to listen makes me work harder.

—Hannah Schneider, Classes Intern

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It’s difficult to really recreate the experience of writing classes or workshops, in which you’re responsible for bringing writing to the table every week and are held accountable for the work that you’ve done. I miss having that kind of opportunity, but NaNoWriMo helps create a new type of structure within which to get writing done. Letting people know that you’re participating in it almost feels like now you’re responsible to do it—because if you’ve already told all your friends, you don’t want to embarrass yourself when they ask you how it’s going and you have to admit that you haven’t been writing all that much. So I try to tell my friends, whether they’re writers or not, and some of them ask me how it’s going every so often and encourage me to keep writing.

One of my main strategies for making time to write is including it in my daily to-do list. I like being organized, so every week I create a to-do list of tasks I need to accomplish every day of that week, whether it’s doing the laundry, returning a library book, submitting a homework assignment, or making a doctor’s appointment. Including “writing” in the list reminds me every day that it is a task I need to complete, just like any other one.

—Hannah Rozenblat, General Intern

Hannah Rozenblat is a writer born and raised in New York. She is an intern at Catapult and is currently working on her Master's degree in Art History at Hunter. Her work has been published in the YU Journal of Fine Arts, Olivetree Review, New Voices, and other places.