The main thing writers do is not write. We think and talk about the books we plan to write, go to classes about writing, and we read other people’s books on the craft of writing. But when it comes time to actually write, there are a million distractions in life that prevent us from getting the job done.
There’s no getting around it though. The only way to write is to sit down and do it. That’s why I’m involved in Shut Up & Write, a group whose mission it is to provide a place and time for writers to write. It sounds too simple to be true and, well, too silly a concept to be effective. Why would you go to a group where the object is to ignore everyone around you? There are lots of reasons: community, creative inspiration and accountability. It’s along the lines of having a workout partner or a study buddy.
Shut Up & Write is a MeetUp-based group with more than 22,000 members in eight countries. Based in San Francisco, Calif., there are Shut Up & Write chapters in 37 cities, including my own. There are no membership fees and most chapters meet in coffee shops, libraries and other public spaces. I’ve written the better part of three books through this organization, gotten some great tips, and made a number of friends along the way.
I’m city organizer of the 400-member Shut Up & Write chapter in Boise, Idaho. I learned about this group while living in Sacramento, Calif., starting two morning groups there. After moving back to Boise, Idaho two years ago, my biggest concern was losing the support and camaraderie of other writers. Boise is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country right now, with a dynamic and optimistic energy that’s infectious. I knew there were a number of writers there that would appreciate the opportunity to network and build a stronger writing community. As each person joined, I heard a similar refrain: they always meant to get some writing done, but never had the time or they had too many distractions in life.
By the way, if you haven’t heard of Meetup, you need to get on a computer right now and check it out. It’s a global organization with more than 35 million members with groups ranging from hiking to book clubs to software development. People get together to work, for enrichment, and to socialize.
I’ve joined hiking groups and social groups through Meetup, and became curious when I came across this group called Shut Up & Write. At the first session I attended in Sacramento, there were people working on school dissertations, memoirs and novels. I met other writers who were just as passionate about their projects as I was about mine. We’d chat for a few minutes before the leader called “time” and then we’d truly shut up and write for an hour, when time was called once more. That was it. One hour of writing. At first, the only writing I accomplished at all was that one hour a week. Before long, I attended a second session during the week, doubling my weekly writing time.
Now, five years later and living in Boise, I’m writing nearly every day. I have one novel published and two more in the works. Just like going to the gym, the more you do it, the easier it gets. I write alongside screenplay writers, novelists, poets, songwriters and memoirists. We all have a story to tell, and we’re telling it one hour at a time.
It just took sitting down, shutting up and writing.