18 December 2015 - 6:23 pm

Retrospective: Overnight write-in 2015

Every year, I try to do something a little different for our NaNoWriMo events. It has led to fun like:

  • The roving write-in, riding the trains around Brisbane with our laptops. (Sadly killed when they removed the daily train passes and it became horribly expensive to achieve.)
  • The Writer’s Retreat, a weekend away on a tropical island at the beach.
  • The evening Kick-off Party with the midnight writing start at 00:00 1st November. (Only feasible when Halloween and 1st Nov are on a weekend.)

Some of the changes have been small. Others have been larger, like those above. Some we’ve kept; some have come and gone for various reasons. This year, the Retreat wasn’t going to work (the cost was proving to be prohibitive), so I thought I’d try something a bit different: an overnight write-in.

The idea was that it would be similar to the Retreat, in that people would go away for a night, and have an extended ‘write-in’ to focus on writing. I’m lucky enough to have a generous-sized house right now, with room that could accommodate a good number of people, so I volunteered my house as the venue.

The idea was also to keep the cost down as much as possible. It being held at my house meant that there were no accommodation costs to worry about; it’s summer, so people could bring a pillow and crash out on couches or cushions easily enough.

The main challenge was the consumables. Knowing that there would be a lot of people, and knowing that we have one fridge in the house, I had to approach it as simply as possible: we would provide all the food and drink, and then we wouldn’t have to contend with people trying to squeeze food and drinks into my fridge. It meant there was a cover charge for the event ($60 AUD), but I figured that was pretty reasonable, all things considered.

It’s not cheap to feed and water a bunch of people. It being summer here, I had to make sure there was plenty of liquid refreshment available. That was fine, though I think I over-estimated how much we would need: there’s a load of soft drink left over. That’s okay, though; at least we didn’t run out.

For snacks, we got in loads and again have some left over. Not a problem; they’ll cover some of our other events as well. These are all good things to know, though.

The overnight was one night (Saturday), which meant one dinner to be catered. That was easy: pizza. That went well, and there were enough leftovers to provide breakfast the next morning, too. Definitely a win!

The Sunday lunch was a challenge, though. Again, I didn’t want to prepare/cook myself (the effort would have been too much, and there’s a certain level of liability that I’m not quite prepared to shoulder). So, I looked at caterers and getting a finger-food buffet lunch delivered.

This was, perhaps, the most contentious part for me. It required organisation well in advance, confirmation a week in advance, and payment several days in advance. It meant that I had to order for how many I thought would come, and predict the dietary requirements, or constrain the bookings to those who made it by our deadline. It was also a little more expensive than I had hoped it would be.

As it happened, the bookings were sluggish coming in, and I wound up getting a bunch of requests on the day it started from people who wanted to come along. I didn’t mind, but it did complicate things. So, with the caterers, I wound up making a judgement call and booking for how many people I thought would come, and hoped it worked out.

As it happened, the numbers weren’t that far off (we had about 15, rather than the 20 I was aiming for), and we had a gluten-free platter when no gluten-free people were coming. But it was all very tasty and went down well, and it all pretty much disappeared. So I’m glad for that!

The other surprise was when people started showing up. I had planned for a 10am start on Saturday, but it was 3pm before most people started to turn up. The last attendee arrived about ten minutes before the pizza arrived. I suspect it’s why we had over-estimated the drinks and snacks required; people simply weren’t around as long as we were expecting. Perhaps the emphasis on it being an overnight write-in caused it? Is making something cover the whole weekend too much? I’m not sure – more investigation required here.

Overall, I’d say it went well. People came, they spread out around the house and deck, and they wrote words. We met new faces. We took breaks and played some games. We ate and talked and hung out a bit, then wrote some more. I think everyone enjoyed themselves.

I will say that the numbers weren’t what I was hoping for. There were many who said they were interested but didn’t come (for varying reasons). There were others who, I’m sure, didn’t come because it wouldn’t be their kind of thing (sleeping on couches, for example).

It’s also worth pointing out that this required a lot of preparation. All the public areas of the house had to be tidied and cleaned, and that was a lot of work (not that it’s normally disgusting, but it’s different when a heap of people are coming over, many of whom had never been to my house before). Getting everything ready wound up being a lot of work.

On the flip side, the aftermath was actually not too bad: we used plastic cups and plates, which meant the cleanup was actually fairly minimal. That was a relief.

All the same, it took me two days to recover afterwards. I think I underestimated how much work and stress was involved. Thank goodness I had taken time off work around this! I was pretty useless for a couple of days. And this was even with help! (I didn’t do it all on my own.)

This all means that future expectations should be adjusted. If we were to do the same thing again, I think I’d approach it differently.

It’s far too early to think about planning next year’s NaNo (this year’s has barely finished), but I wanted to capture this while it’s fresh. Also, I’ve been thinking about doing a winter overnight write-in, because the notion of doing it when it’s cold out is very appealing.

So what would I do differently? Let’s see. For the winter one:

  • Pyjamas. For the whole weekend. Blankies are encouraged.
  • Have activities for people to do. This won’t be during NaNo, so a load of free writing time would get boring. So, something like holding writing games, or a character creation workshop, might be fun.
  • Focus on having a smaller group for it. With it being colder, it might be less fun to sit outside for hours at a time. The house is only so big. Smaller and cozier would be good.
  • Call it a weekend pyjama writing extravaganza (or similar). Staying the night entirely optional. Some beds and couches and beanbags available for those who wish to stay.
  • Think differently about the catering. Try to find a better/cheaper/more flexible option for the lunch.

For next NaNoWriMo, I might try:

  • Call it a Weekend Write-in. Hold it for the whole weekend, but less emphasis on the overnight portion.
  • Loosen up the catering and costing. Have people pay on the days, so they can come for only one day if they wish.
  • Look for alternatives for the Sunday lunch. The catering was great but ultimately too awkward and expensive.

So, a few things to work on. I’ll do a poll and get some feedback, and see what others thought of the weekend, too; there may be more to add to this list.

I enjoy these experiments. I like to try things out! I’d really love to try a floating write-in on the river, but I don’t think the ferries are conducive to writing here.

Always on the lookout for something new to try. What will next year’s big try be? Watch this space, I suppose. Suggestions are, as always, welcome.

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  1. Kunama says:

    Unsure how cold it gets up there, but a fire might be an idea for the winter one.

    December 21st, 2015 at 11:18 pm

  2. Mel says:

    Yes! It gets cool here, not horribly cold. But a fire (or a firepit outside) would be lovely. With marshmallows. 😀

    December 22nd, 2015 at 12:49 pm