Saturday, November 16, 2013

Google + Hangouts for Writers: Writing Alone, Together

One of the bigger challenges about being a writer is the sad fact that writing as a profession is a very solitary experience. Writer’s need time and space without (many) distractions to be able to create.

I’m an introvert, which means that I’m well-suited to this writer life. I ascribe to the classic definition of introversion as well represented in Susan Cain's book, which doesn’t mean I’m anti-social or socially fearful, but rather that I need quiet time to refuel. I need alone time to feel “normal.” (whatever normal is, anyway!)

Writing turns out to be a great match for my personality type because of this need for writing to take place in calm and quiet. Please let’s not mention the piles of piles that my writing desk currently contains. They are quiet piles. Silent, even. Just paper.

However, as a writer and an introvert, I still crave regular human contact. I achieve some of this through digital means – both via online connections as well as phone calls. But I also like to actually see people I’m talking to at least some of the time. Plus it’s lonely to write, and I long for the company of other people on the same or a similar journey.

Enter Google+ video hangouts for writers. This has been an excellent way for me to achieve my goal of writing, but also connecting with others in similar positions all over the globe. I have done Google+ writer’s hangouts with several professional writers in my circles in the past and it’s a great way to also get exposed to a wider group of authors, making new connections and establishing additional relationships.

At the beginning of 2013 I took an online workshop with author Mary Robinette Kowal. We used Google+ hangouts for each weekly 2 hour class meeting, with additional work in between our class sessions. After the class completed, my classmates and I established a regular set of writer hangouts on Google+. We’ve since absorbed an additional group of Mary’s class alums into our core writing group.

Here’s how it works. We have two standing meeting times that we’ve selected in an attempt to suit everyone’s schedules. Since we have people as far away as Alaska and Finland, this is not an easy task. But we’ve settled on one evening and one weekend morning each week as regular meeting times.

Then, a day or two prior, one of us creates a “google event.” You can select a fitting theme for your meeting (this can be a fun time-waster if you’re a procrastinator like me,) then give your event a title and select the right date and time.

On the far right is a pull-down menu option for “Event Options.” Pull this down and select “Advanced.” This is where you specify your event is “online-only.”

In the To: field, enter the names of any Google+ members or communities (I believe G+ communities can be created with non-G+ members, or they can participate in communities without having a gmail account, but don’t hold me to this…) Then the invitation will go out to those who have subscribed to emails for this sort of thing (you can change what notifications go to your email in your Google Settings.) 

The invitees will also receive an email at the start time of the event, with a helpful “Join Hangout” button right in the email. It’s a simple task to click on the link where you will be joined into the video chat group.

A few helpful hints about video chatting:
  • -       Take turns talking. When you realize you’re interrupting someone, stop and either visually indicate or say something to show you recognize you were overtalking. Like on a large conference call for work, overtalking makes it so that nobody can understand what anybody else is saying. At least with a hangout we have the visual cues, too, but you still need to be careful and respect other participants.
  • -       For optimal writing output, establish some sort of “writing and then chat” routine with your hangouts. One of our regular meetings includes a 90 minute free-write at the beginning, followed by a chat afterwards. Another strategy is to take a break for 15 minutes once each hour to chit-chat before returning to writing.
  • -       Engage in some friendly competition. Here in November, National Novel Writing Month aka Month Of INSANITY I like word wars as a way to spark my competitive streak and get more words down.
  • -       Look at yourself when you first come onto the hangout. If it’s dark where you are, consider if you need to turn on a lap so your face can be shown. Tilt your webcam so it shows your face well. See if there’s anything weird or distracting in your background and try to remove it. Good luck if the weird/distracting thing is kids and/or pets, they have a way of derailing even the best conversations.
  • -       Try to avoid moving your webcam, it can make other participants motion sick.

-        Now I challenge you to go connect with other writers in video calls of some sort or another. Go forth and write, alone, together!


  1. This is great information, and I love the step-by-step screenshots. I've only been on hangouts a couple times, and only for social things. I like the idea of writing as a group - that could definitely help keep people (me) in line since everyone could see how often you wander off task.
    OT I bet the workshop was great. I've wanted to read Shades of Milk and Honey forever.
    Great post!

  2. Shades of Milk and Honey is very enjoyable, particularly if you're an Austen fan! Glamour and Glass is also lovely. Mary's a great instructor, too. She has a good handle on the things that are difficult about writing and is able to talk specifically about those areas. I enjoyed the class, though a big part of it was because it led me to another (! I have an embarrassment of riches of writer communities) writer's community! :)

  3. That's fun. I've done a google hangout writing thing...I let Karen come up with the title, with Karen before, and it was really fun, except I spent the first ten minutes realizing I probably should have taken a shower before I said yes, and Oh my gosh is that really what I look like, and then I am talking to people while looking like this...but after a minute I got past that and we had a great time.

    Melanie and Sabrina and I once tried to have a Alchemy meeting on google+ but then Sabrina's camera wasn't working, and we can type faster then we can talk while looking at our un-showered selves, and we need notes for reference later so we moved to google drive, which is also google, and also awesome.

    Great post Karen. You are the most well connected introvert that I know.

    And as an introvert, I know a lot of introverts. We find each other, and interact from our personal safety bubbles.


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