If you missed my last post, I discussed my adventures in virtually traveling around the world for NaNoWriMo. It was an amazing time and one of the few upside of the world being in its current state.
Now let’s talk statistics and logistics. This is a long post. Fair warning.
Where I went
As mentioned earlier, I visited 84 new regions across 42 states and the District of Columbia, plus 13 countries outside of the United States.
For the US, that looks something like this:
The chart of states I virtually visited in NaNoWriMo 2020. Light blue (Iowa, Georgia, and North Carolina) means I visited the state only through the Discord crawl and not as part of one of their own regional events (dark blue).
In case the map isn’t visible, every state is some shade of blue except Hawaii, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Hawaii, South Carolina, Delaware, and Vermont. You can ignore the electoral votes; the 270towin site was the easiest and quickest way to visualize my adventures.
Here are the non-US regions:
- Belgium (via Discord crawl)
- France (via Discord crawl)
- Hungary (via Discord crawl)
- Malaysia (via Discord crawl)
- New Zealand
- South Africa
Of the 84 regions visited, 60 of them (71%) are in the United States, lining up with NaNo’s region list — nearly two-thirds of the NaNoWriMo regions are in the United States. Seven of the 84 regions visited are in Canada, which also lines up — just under ten percent of NaNo’s regions are in Canada. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to visit a region in Central or South America due to lack of write-ins and not wanting to intrude on a primarily Spanish-speaking environment with only two semesters of Spanish studied nearly fifteen years ago.
I was in the Zoom where it happened
Sure, we were all virtual this year, but here’s where the write-ins happened:
- Zoom – 26
- Discord – 43 (includes 13 regions visited via the Discord crawl)
- Twitch – 5 (includes 3 regions visited via 100 Hours of Twitch)
- IRC – 4
- Youtube – 2 (NaNo HQ write-ins hosted by MLs)
- Chatzy – 1
- Google Meet – 1
- Facebook Messenger Rooms – 1
Note the Discord total includes 13 regions visited via a global Discord crawl and the Twitch total includes three regions visited via 100 hours of Twitch. Disregarding those, Zoom and Discord were the most popular by a landslide and used almost equally. One region (Melbourne) used both Zoom and Discord for the write-in I attended, but it was a special event. It’s not included in the total above. I didn’t track how many Discord write-ins used voice, video, or neither, but about half the non-crawl Discord write-ins used voice or video.
While Discord takes some initial setup on the admin side, it does offer the flexibility to use voice, video, or just text while offering a place for Wrimos to chat outside of write-ins. Plus it’s free. Zoom keeps you in the moment, which is great for the write-in but not as good for continuing to build a community after the write-in. Zoom also has the disadvantage of not being free for unlimited meeting lengths; every write-in I attended was on a plan that didn’t kick us out after 40 minutes. I’m not sure whether each ML ponied up for the plan themselves just for NaNo or was already using Zoom for work or personal purposes.
(Side note, I never left any of these regional Discord servers unless someone kicked me out for inactivity. Discord power users, if you have any tips for organizing them into folders, I’m all ears. I tried time zones, but the North America Eastern/Central folder is ridiculous.)
Also of note: some regions hosted write-ins via Whatsapp. I didn’t attend these, primarily due to time zone differences and the fact that you have to install the app and give the ML your phone number to join their Whatsapp group. These are very useful for regions already using Whatsapp as a regional chat but quite a hurdle for visitors. Similarly, the Facebook Messenger Rooms write-in was hosted by a friend’s region, where you have to join the associated Facebook group; it’s no secret I despise Facebook and wouldn’t join the group for a random region.
My Time Zone Privilege is Showing
There are some considerations that made this adventure as successful as it was. Roughly two-thirds of NaNoWriMo’s regions are in the United States; most of those regions, plus most of Canada’s regions, are concentrated in the Eastern and Central time zones. Since I’m on Eastern Time, this made many of the write-ins accessible to me without sacrificing even more sleep. It also made multiple shorter write-ins in one day possible if I attended one write-in in Eastern or Central Time and then one later write-in in Mountain or Pacific Time, which would be earlier in their evening. My time zone also made European and African weekend write-ins possible if the write-in was in their afternoon or evening. I even attended one Australia write-in on my Friday night, which was early Saturday afternoon there.
My home region participated in a global write-in crawl on Discord co-hosted by 25 other regions during the second week of NaNo, open to Wrimos affiliated with one of the regional Discord servers participating. And okay, I might have sneaked into some of the far-flung regions during work hours, especially regions that typically might not speak English. A group of MLs around the world hosted a Twitch event mid-month featuring 100 hours of streamed Twitch write-ins. These two events added 16 more regions to my total, as there was significant overlap between the participating MLs in the two events. I also counted two virtual write-in from NaNoWriMo HQ hosted by MLs and a stream from a former ML in Japan.
How I Did It
Lots of planning. We’re talking more planning than I’ve done for any of my NaNo novels. I spent most of October’s second half scouting out regions, making sure to include regions I had already been invited to, large regions, small regions, regions outside the United States… I hoped to get a good cross-section of the world in these adventures while also attending a general social event and a big event, basically imitating a typical in-person NaNo experience.
I had planned early on that my big event would be London’s overnighter, and I got the date for that early on for write-in planning purposes.
My process went something like this:
- Choose a region.
- Look at their region’s events on the NaNoWriMo website.
- If there were 2-4 events a week, I chose one that fit into my schedule and put it on my Google calendar.
- If there were write-ins nearly daily, I copied the region’s event URL to my planning document. Regions offering lots of write-ins gave me a backup plan in case something fell through, or in case I got tired of checking regions at random. This came in handy later in the month when I was running low on time and plot.
- If the region had exactly one weekly write-in, I chose one of those weekly write-ins and put it on my calendar. Doing this crowded most of my weekend afternoons pretty quickly.
I filled in most of the first week quickly, attending only one write-in on November first and spacing out one write-in per day over the first week. For regions with only one or two weekly write-ins, I made sure to choose an event now so I wouldn’t be scrambling for those regions later.
From choosing the regions to tracking the write-ins, this was a 100% manual operation, and to be honest, finding new write-ins to fill in gaps became my main source of procrastination as the month passed.
Tracking All These Write-Ins
I’m in love with Google Calendar. Sorry, future hypothetical partner. Fortunately the events section on the NaNo website converts the time to your own time zone as set on the NaNo website, so my job was making sure I entered the times in Google Calendar correctly. I entered the region’s name, the location as Zoom/Discord/wherever the write-in was happening, and then included any other useful info: the event listing on the NaNo website, the Zoom connection info, whether I had already joined the Discord server, if I had to check a specific forum thread on the day of the event for the meetup link…
By some miracle I mixed up only one event due to time zone differences, and it worked out in my favor time zone-wise. I was wondering why a write-in was began at 9pm their time…
Some regions still use Google Calendar, possibly due to the past NaNo site integration with Google Calendar. A few regions skipped the NaNo site event listing altogether and linked to a Google calendar, which meant I had to do the time zone conversion on my own or (in some cases) add the calendar to my own Google Calendar to view the events at all. I would love to see some integration with Google Calendar, whether that’s an “add to Google Calendar/iCal” button or a tool for MLs to add events to the site from Google Calendar so they don’t have to add events individually. I’d also love a way to see all your upcoming RSVP’d events in one list but this may be useful only to power users like me.
You actually wrote at all these write-ins, right?
Yes, look at my word count! Well, at most of them. A few of them turned out to be a pure social hour, sometimes because the ML was the only other attendee, sometimes because the other folks there knew me and it was a low-attendance write-ins so we just chatted the whole time. I did get a few words in at each write-in. I visited one region (New York City) for a pure social hour and wrote zero words as a result.
Why didn’t you visit my region?
I have a full-time job and no time machine. Sorry! I tried to visit as many as possible while working full-time, sleeping a reasonable amount, helping out with @NaNoWordSprints, eating three meals a day, maintaining basic hygiene, participating in three remote Pokemon Go PVP tournaments, and having some time set aside for mental breaks. I needed those brain breaks, especially around mid-month when my novel was all over the place. One day when we are one with our AI overlords and not subject to silly things like mortality and fleshy bodies, I can come visit you all.
To put this adventure in perspective, there are 720 hours in November and almost as many NaNoWriMo regions. Even if we exclude the ones without events or MLs, that’s still a lot of regions and not enough time.
But I wanted to region hop with you!
I received a few requests to region hop as a group. In the end I didn’t make the full calendar public because things changed regularly, sometimes at the last minute for reasons out of my control. At least one write-in on my calendar was cancelled, and it felt unfair to hold other people to so many things I couldn’t control. Also, one person region-hopping one thing, but I wasn’t sure how the host Wrimos would feel about a whole army of non-local Wrimos invading all their write-ins, especially at some lower-attended write-ins toward the end of the month. I’m sorry!
Some regions were already virtual due to being so spread out, and moving to an all-virtual format didn’t change much. Others, such as my home region, had previously hosted virtual events alongside in-person events, so moving to an all-virtual format was easier. In my experience and discussion with Wrimos, the regions that previously had a strong in-person event system but little virtual community outside of those in-person events were the ones that struggled with attendance and engagement as the month wore on.
Like in a normal year, some days were more productive than others, meaning yes, some write-ins were more productive than others. Living in a new battleground state during US Election Week killed my productivity for a few days, and yes, this came up at every write-in that week when the Wrimos found out I wasn’t a local. (That discussion usually went something like “I can’t concentrate, I’m watching election results. Georgia, wow.”) My most productive write-ins featured regular sprints with some conversation in between those sprints, usually with Zoom or Discord voice/video. It also helped if someone was tracking the word counts in a spreadsheet so my word counts were visible to everyone and not just getting lost in the chat. This contrasts with in-person write-ins where I’d normally sit quietly and write for several hours, hardly talking to anyone. If anything, the virtual write-ins as a whole were more structured than the in-person write-ins I’ve attended and hosted, possibly to avoid the ease of turning them into a pure social hour. That said, a few write-ins were purely social hour and they were still loads of fun. I managed to sneak in a few words to make the write-in count.
I used what feels like every word war bot in existence. Their different commands blended in my head throughout the month, sometimes to the amusement of local Wrimos. For what it’s worth, Sprinto and Winnie were the most popular ones on Discord. Every bot’s commands are a little different and I could probably make a comparison chart for every war timing bot out there. Also, Winnie was quite stingy with her raptors, but I finally got one in Adelaide.
Despite all the fun, the world tour wasn’t perfect. Besides the part where it wasn’t a live world tour and I couldn’t visit all 660+ regions, a couple of events had absolutely no one else show up. I allowed some flexibility for cases like this. If someone else showed up, I counted it, even if it wasn’t the host or ML. I allowed about half an hour before moving on to another region for the no-shows. This is where my time zone privilege starts showing: both of these no-shows were on a weekend in North America, so finding another write-in was extremely easy. Almost any large region had a write-in going on, so I had to look at only two or three regions before finding one to gatecrash, even if half an hour late.
But imperfections aside, this virtual world tour was the best way imaginable to spend such a weird November. Heck, this might be the highlight of my whole year. How am I supposed to top this for NaNo number twenty next year?