Why I Shut Up & Write

Where are you at 10:00am sharp on Saturday mornings? Sleeping in? Waking up? Waiting for brunch? I’m usually grabbing a seat at Mo Joe’s Cafe for a Shut Up & Write! marathon. To make it on time, I have to wake up before 8 in sleepy San Francisco to catch a just-shy-of-9 train that whisks me away to Berkeley and a spot at Mo Joe’s. Why do I bother? That first check-in.

Shortly after 10, the host of that week’s Shut Up & Write! gathers us together to start the meetup. We sit around a stretch of shared tables; everyone says a quick introduction. For the last few weeks mine has been:

Hi, I’m Art and I’m revising the third draft of a novel about… Today I’m revising a subplot and hope to accomplish…

Art-GatsbyOn snarkier days, I’ll wear my Gatsby shirt and chime in:

Hi, I’m Scott and I’m working on a follow-up to my semi-successful novel. It’s tentatively called The Greater Gatsby.

I’ve seen check-ins range from the minimal “Cindy, novel” to the grateful and playful. I get the most out of sharing what I hope to accomplish in the coming hours because it focuses my time.

Then, everyone scatters all about the cafe to write where they please. There’s usually a laptop & outlet congregation along the walls and a pen & paper contingent in the sofa seats. Sometimes, a tablet with a wireless keyboard shows up. However words happen. Everyone settles in and for the next two hours, we just write.

We check in again around noon. Some leave, others arrive. Wash, rinse, repeat.

My most productive days are Shut Up & Write! marathons.

What’s Shut Up & Write?

From Rennie & Bob’s charming manifesto:

There are two primary reasons for the existence of Shut Up and Write! The first is to provide a community of working writers in which current and aspiring writers can work together. The second is to provide a step- by-step method to teach writers the discipline necessary to reach the most important phase of any writing project, “The End.”

You cannot get published and become widely read if you can’t finish your writing projects. And you will not finish anything if you do not develop the discipline to sit down and write on a daily basis. The beginning of this discipline is setting aside one hour per week as a minimum. Shut Up and Write! provides the foundation and support.

I found Shut Up & Write! on an early Saturday morning in March — my ex’s birthday. Instead of spending another weekend with my broken habits, I ventured over to Mo Joe’s Cafe. I hadn’t written anything longer than a napkin-sized journal entry in months. I walked out six hours later with over 3,000 words of a new piece of creative nonfiction. I went back every week and iterated through eighteen drafts of one of my favorite stories.

Two-and-a-half years later, I wake up early and return to a brighter Berkeley on as many Saturdays as I can.

Lasting Effects

Since that first time, I’ve hosted dozens of writing marathons (since the host has to stay for the longest time, he or she typically gets more done). I’ve attended indoor and outdoor meetups in at least seven venues across the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ve written poems, stories, blog posts, a short film script, and a draft of my novel. I’ve watched others work on novels, stories, essays, screenplays, dissertations, memoirs, and at least one cookbook. I’ve celebrated moments of accomplishment with them: finished drafts, cover designs, and publication acceptance emails.

It’s never just about the word count. Every Shut Up & Write! check-in is an opportunity to rejoice, connect with people, discover upcoming events, and ask for help.

Though Shut Up & Write! encourages actual writing, I’ve found immense value in unblocking myself in ways other than adding to the raw word count. Freewriting, brainstorming, mindmapping, and journaling (about myself or my current project) have cleared emotional blocks. Progress is still satisfying, even if it’s less tangible. The snowflake method, outlines, and structural & line edits have guided me through many rounds of revision. I’ve even brought friends to Shut Up & Write! that worked on physics and product management, and they experienced the same bubbling sense of productivity.

The power of writing together cannot be understated, even if you’re working on entirely unrelated pieces. I still get distracted and tempted by my phone, the internet, the world outside. But when I look up and see even one person immersed in writing, I refocus on why I’m there — I have a story inside and writing it feels better than keeping it. And if I’m with others who are trying to make words happen, I stay longer and get more done than I would by myself in the best coffee shop on the most inspired day.

What’s the most treasured part of your writing community? Let me know in the comments. Is it time to find or start a writing group like Shut Up & Write! in your area?

Happy writing!

This is a cross-post from TheRightMargin blog.

11 thoughts on “Why I Shut Up & Write”

  1. Art, I loved your blog post. I also have found Shut Up & Write! to be really inspirational and an opportunity to get a lot done. There’s something about being in a room of folks struggling to get their words on the page or screen that make is a little harder for me to quit and a little easier for me to fight hard to get the right turn of phrase.

  2. Art, thanks for sharing your blog about shut up & write. I loved it! I proved myself wrong about ‘I can write only when I’m by myself’ or ‘I can write only in the early hours of the morning’ as I used to think. After joining shut up & write I can sit much longer and write in the company of other writers and be more productive.

  3. Great post, Art! I’m sitting at shut up and write with you right now getting stuff done and I know exactly what you mean in terms of boosting creativity. But it’s also given me a chance to meet some awesome people. ahem. 😉

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