As Community Manager at Shut Up & Write, I have the privilege of regularly connecting with our writers all over the world. I recently had the opportunity to talk to two of our Organizers who have been hosting Shut Up & Write events virtually for the last several months. Read on to learn more about their experiences and successes in the role of Shut Up & Write Organizer.
Lira: How did you first hear about Shut Up & Write?
Eugenia: I was already a member of Meetup and I must’ve put writing in there as one of my interests. Before this, I’d only tried one other writing group and I hated it because they were just talking, and nobody would shut up! I love the idea of going somewhere where you’re just quietly writing, and you’re there for that common purpose without having to worry about someone talking to you or interrupting you. It holds you accountable, that’s the thing.
Sofia: I’ve always written all my life and I’m also a very social person. I just like being with people, so I would call a friend and we’d be working together and I’d be writing at the same time. I was so much more productive when I was sitting next to another person! I started Googling writing groups and for the longest time I couldn’t find anything, but one day Shut Up & Write popped up. So I went to an event group and I loved it. But it was only one hour a week and I wanted to do it more.
Lira: Can you tell me a little more about what got you interested in hosting Shut Up & Write events online?
Eugenia: Purely for selfish reasons. I wasn’t going to write unless I was forced to. Hosting an event makes you more accountable because then you have to show up to your own group!
Sofia: I remember when the lockdown was started—it was so sad for me. I thought, “What happens to my writing group?” I saw one online and I texted Eugenia right away, and we both went to that, then Eugenia said, “Let’s start our own!”
Eugenia: We went from one event per week to four, purely for selfish reasons. When we went online, we saw the freedom of it. It just opened up a whole world of possibility in terms of when and how often we could meet. It was a no-brainer to add more. We all thought lockdown would be two to three weeks max—we never thought it would extend to five months. Everyone had this fear about whether the online events would end after lockdown. When we heard the announcement from the CEO of Meetup that online events would be allowed to continue indefinitely, we all sighed a big sigh of relief because there were so many of us—people joining us all from over the country, all over the world, people who have come to rely on the groups not just for the writing but for the human connection.
Lira: I see there are a lot of people who attend your events online, sometimes over 30 at once! How does this increased participation compare to your previous experience hosting in-person events?
Eugenia: It feels great! I love how diverse our group is. We have people from all different cultures and countries—men, women, young, old. I love it so much! That’s one difference from meeting in person, when we’d all be from the same place. Hosting online also means we can have more people from all over the world joining us. It’s the morning here and it’s the evening there. One of our members picks up the computer and shows us the sunset in Scotland! And the fact that this is free—I love that. It’s just freely given. I’m not a writing teacher. I’m just a person who wants these groups for herself. One of the things I’ve been desperate for is a writing retreat. Somewhere, but not by myself, and I don’t want writing prompts, and I want to be with other people and just zip it and write for a long time. I said during one of my events, “I wish we could do a writing retreat,” and another member said, “Why don’t we?” Then I realized, of course we can do that. And that’s when we had our first all day Shut Up & Write virtual writing retreat. And it was free! You just RSVP on meetup and that’s it. I finally got my writing retreat.
Lira: Are you and your members making progress with your writing?
Sofia: I finished my screenplay! I had my first draft for a long time, then I went back to it during Shut Up & Write events, and I did three more drafts!
Eugenia: I’m nowhere near finished with my book. But without these groups I would not be as far along as I am, for sure. I know other people are making progress on their work because I hear them talking about finishing their projects. There was one time when a group of three or four members were working to finish their sitcom pilots and get them in before a deadline. There was one guy who attended a bunch of back-to-back events to meet the deadline.
Lira: Do you see yourself continuing with the online format even after in-person venues are opened back up?
Eugenia: Yes, one hundred percent. With the online events, we can structure it however we want. Sometimes we do two hours, sometimes we do three. I love that freedom! Though once the lockdown is over, we would love to see local writers in person as well.
Sofia: We want to continue doing events in-person and online.
Lira: Do you have any words of advice for Organizers who may be hesitant to try online hosting?
Eugenia: The first thought I have is—it’s not as hard as you think. It’s not that big of a learning curve. Usually people are afraid because they don’t know how to work Zoom or whichever online platform. But it’s very user-friendly. Once you get over the hurdle of resistance, it’s really easy. The Shut Up & Write team makes it so easy. As an Organizer, you just get a link to a page and that’s it! You don’t need to know what you’re doing, you just have to want to do it.
Sofia: Consider a co-host. If one day you don’t feel like doing it, you know you have someone to be your backup.
Eugenia: A co-host can also help let people into the online meeting, read the chat. People love that it’s the two of us hosting our event. I feel so grateful!