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We have a weekly event (Tuesdays at 17:00 UTC) in chat that we advertise as a writing exercise. It's organized informally: people gather and somebody throws out a writing prompt and people share their work.

It doesn't always happen, though. I noticed that this week we attracted a visitor from another site, someone who saw our ad for the event and came to check it out. It didn't happen -- one person was present but had work to do (perfectly understandable), and it looks like our visitor went away in frustration, which makes me sad.

I am not complaining about volunteers not being there to run an informal event. I mean, I wasn't there either. :-)1 I'm asking if this event is working for us as currently set up. Specifically:

  • Does the day/time still work?
  • Do we want to have a facilitator each week (not necessarily the same person each week) whose job is to be there, have a prompt ready, and generally encourage the event for that week?
  • Should we be advertising it at its current level of support?

What, if anything, should we do about our weekly chat event?

1 Since most of the prompts are fiction rather than, say, essays, and I'm a tech writer, I usually don't participate.

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    How about shifting the day to weekend or maybe Friday evening? Weekdays people might be busy (but then weekends do not guarantee that people will be free...might be "busier") – Pravesh Parekh Mar 18 '14 at 12:55
  • @PraveshParekh - Would prefer to avoid Friday evenings. Between the Jewish shabbat and people going out then, it makes sense to keep the chat on a weekday. But I'd like to try publicizing these chats more first. – Neil Fein Mar 18 '14 at 20:34
  • Also, is anyone leading the event now? If so, they should be told about this meta thread. – Neil Fein Mar 19 '14 at 0:25
  • @NeilFein I don't think anybody is now, which probably contributes to the chaos. – Monica Cellio Mar 19 '14 at 15:36
  • How about we have a calendar sort of a thing for the month chalked out in the beginning of the month? Volunteers could tell the "slot" for which they are free and can be around to give a prompt and be around for the chat? If multiple people volunteer for the same slot...better! If someone wants to withdraw (for some reason) they can try and let the community know in advance so that the next person(s) could step in and take up the role of the "prompter"? – Pravesh Parekh Mar 21 '14 at 20:56
  • @PraveshParekh sounds like a good idea to me. Could you post it as an answer so people can vote? – Monica Cellio Mar 21 '14 at 21:00
  • @MonicaCellio Thanks! Posted as an answer. – Pravesh Parekh Mar 21 '14 at 21:09
  • I didn't know this was a thing, but looking at it, it's 4am on Wednesday for Australia, anyway. It would be cool to participate, but that's really the worst possible time. – AlbeyAmakiir Mar 24 '14 at 4:28
  • @AlbeyAmakiir yeah, that sounds like just about the worst time for Australia -- a little late to stay up but too early to get up. :-) – Monica Cellio Mar 24 '14 at 14:50
  • @AlbeyAmakiir - There's no reason we can't have this at a different time, or have more than one chat. Any specific time work for you? – Neil Fein Mar 26 '14 at 3:30
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    @NeilFein, Albey - it occurs to me that if somebody has already come up with a prompt, there's no reason the same exercise couldn't be run twice, say 12 hours apart. Whatever those times are, they should provide a workable option for most people, wherever they are. Yeah, the prompt wouldn't necessarily be a surprise for the second group (people would have to not read the transcript if they want to be surprised), but that shouldn't be too much of a problem. – Monica Cellio Mar 26 '14 at 13:46
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As a sometimes-regular participant in the exercises, I'd like to point out that the time chosen was selected so that it'd be convenient for both Europe and North America. Specifically, we had interested parties in GMT and GMT+1 who were available at that time (it being after work and after they got home) and parties in the US who were at work, but available during lunch time.

For the people who do show up, the problem is usually not the writing topics. I wasn't aware that, eg, Monica wasn't participating due to the prompts usually being fiction. We typically make up the prompts on the spot with little organization. We are open to any kind of writing. We originally had "homework" writing, where the writing was done offline and brought in the next week. That tended to be forgotten, so we switched to 10-minute writes, so that everyone present can participate. I encourage people to suggest new topics or styles if they don't like the ones we have. Heck, just write anything at all in 10 minutes!

From my experience there are two things needed for a successful writers chat. First, at least three people should show up. When there are just two people, they either just chat, or don't chat at all, and either way no writing gets done. With three people, there's usually a sense of quorum, and a topic can be proposed and written. The second thing that's needed is a facilitator. Usually one of the chatters (okay, it's always KitFox) leads the conversation and wrangles people. When Kit's not around the chat seems to stagnate. Kit has been helpful in tracking down likely participants in other chat rooms and pinging them to come to the site. This is what keeps the chat active and lively. When Kit is away or too busy to write, it falls to pieces. Kit is a good facilitator but someone else could probably do it. I won't volunteer myself because I'm no good at it, but once the facilitator is in place the other pieces will typically fall into place.

Finally, if even one person is in the chat and wants to write, try to ping some of the regulars, such as myself, or pop by the ELU chat to see who's there. Even if it's not the scheduled time. Writing exercises can be quick and easy and you can never do too many.

  • I looked in on today's (late) and you know what? For a ten-minute on-the-spot exercise, I should just broaden my horizons. :-) I think I was still thinking of the longer "homework" style ones, but that hasn't been for a while. – Monica Cellio Mar 26 '14 at 1:13
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Maybe what we can try is setting up a person to lead the chat, and make the topic known ahead of time? "100 words about a tree: You have ten minutes" "50 words about a cup of tea" and so on. A topic might get people excited ahead of time. We'd just need to keep it from seeming that people should prepare ahead of time; I think these are supposed to be freewriting exercises.

I'd prefer to enlist community members to do this (i.e., non-mods) but I'd be happy to lead one of these.

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Let us have a monthly calendar. The calendar would be divided into slots depending on the number of writing exercises that we can have that month. Volunteers can volunteer for any slot (in that month) in which they would like to lead the chat (based on their availability, convenience, etc.). Further, a topic can or cannot be told in advance (c.f. Neil Fein's answer).

If multiple people volunteer for the same slot, it should work out better (as there will be variety in terms of the prompts and more people so more fun).

In case a volunteer decides to back down (for whatsoever legitimate or illegitimate reason(s)), another person can take the slot.

In case no one is volunteering for the slot, the rest of the community can rest knowing that there might not be a event that week.

Non-volunteers (people who are not interested in leading but are interested in participating) can also show their commitment to a slot.

This might help in terms of advertisements as well. We could advertise slots (topic disclosed/undisclosed, number of committed people, etc.).

This should also help the members who are new to chat. If multiple people volunteer to take the lead then "older" or experienced members can help the newer people in "doing it properly" and ensure that there is no boredom or general downtrending in terms of topics etc.

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    I'm kinda liking the idea of not telling the topic in advance, to discourage people "preparing" for a freewrite. – Neil Fein Mar 25 '14 at 14:59
  • Pravesh, would you like to lead today's chat? If you're not available, I can do it, but I'd rather have community members than moderators on this one. – Neil Fein Mar 25 '14 at 15:22
  • Hi @NeilFein, sorry I just saw your comment. Am I too late or something? – Pravesh Parekh Mar 25 '14 at 16:40
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    @NeilFein I am around (with a topic). Would love to lead it (haven't used the chat feature before, so would be my debut!) – Pravesh Parekh Mar 25 '14 at 16:50
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    Pravesh, thanks for leading today's chat, and especially doing so for your chat debut! – Monica Cellio Mar 26 '14 at 1:10
  • @MonicaCellio A pleasure. Will look forward to it :) – Pravesh Parekh Mar 26 '14 at 6:37

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