The Cafe Aphra November Challenge: A Review
I love a challenge. And so, it seems, do many others. Over 500,000* people took part in NaNoWriMo last month and, even more excitingly, many were those that took part in our Café Aphra November Writing Challenge. To recap, we decided to hold our own writing task whereby you, the writer, set your own goals, targets or aim and work towards it with the support of others online who were doing the same. There was an instant camaraderie from the unified act of writing. Within the first few days of cold November, our Facebook ‘Likes’ doubled and we had people from all over the world – Europe, the USA and the Middle East – joining in. People chatted to each other, asked for advice, gave support. It was exactly what we had hoped to achieve – the seed of a community of writers.
Writing is a solitary activity. Only you are writing those words onto that page or screen and this can cause a degree of loneliness. Some writers thrive on this, others struggle. During my first year of full-time writing I told no-one what I was doing. I evaded questions on how I was spending my time or answered them vaguely enough to be polite but conclusive. This self-imposed bubble – created simply because I didn’t have the confidence to tell anyone what I was doing – sent me running straight back into a part-time job, desperate for human interaction and company again. Now, of course, I am desperate to get back to my writing but I needed to make sure that I wasn’t on my own anymore.
I have started telling people now and kindly, people ask me how I am getting on with it. This is actually an excellent motivator because saying ‘Erm, well, slowly,’ is not what they, or I, want to hear. But the real change is that now, I am part of a writing community. With a community behind you, that understands you, nurtures you, laughs and cries along with you and your characters, writing is no longer a solitary activity. And the very nature of an online community means that if you write on a computer, you are there, within it, whilst you are actually writing. Another unexpected bonus from online chats is that you feed each other so many ideas and you can then simply cut and paste the relevant parts of your conversation straight into a working document! I recently had a delightful hour-long chat with a fellow Café Aphraite in Spain and she gave me at least two ideas for short stories which, at the end of the conversation, I saved into two new documents, ready to go!People gained different things from the challenge. One writer learnt that she works best to a deadline, that she is best in the mornings and at the start of the week. Another had written a novel which she had been told to cut by around 30,000 words. She decided to use this challenge to edit, setting herself a goal of 400 words a day. By the end of the month she had managed to cut the required amount, had a new draft and joyfully commented ‘This has been a good November Challenge’. Others gained the confidence to share their blogs on our Facebook page, giving them another outlet for their writing and their voice to be heard by like-minded fellow writers.
For Café Aphra it is still baby steps. We now have 38 likes on our Facebook page and have just hit the 1000 views mark on our blog. But these things take time. A community, whether in reality or online, doesn’t develop overnight. It is an organic process of gathering and bringing people together with a common interest, a mutual need, a shared outlook. Those who have read our blog, ‘liked’ our Facebook page and taken part in our challenge have started something: something good.
*As it is too early for NaNoWriMo to reveal their numbers for this year, these are my figures, calculated very loosely by dividing the total number of words written by 50,000.