Lessons in Livewriting

On Monday November 22nd, somewhere approaching midnight, I became a livewriting survivor. Why? Because I had just finishing livewriting Chapter 6 of my current webfiction Between Worlds (Book 2 of the Above Ground series).

“Livewriting?” I hear you say. “What is livewriting?” For your viewing pleasure, an excerpt from the AMH English Dictionary:

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[liv-rahyt] verb, live·wrote; live·writ·ten; live·writ·ing

1. to express or communicate in writing at the time of viewing; a writing performance
2. to form characters, words, etc. on a screen before a live audience, using a keyboard or similar means: Livewrite your story in Google Docs
3. to produce as an author by setting down words before a live audience: to livewrite three novels

circa October 2009; 1889 Labs.
—Can be confused: liveblogging
—Synonyms: insanity, lunacy, silliness.

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Despite reading MCM’s how-to guide, as well as his rules for livewriting, I still bungled things up. I’m starting to think that’s the point of livewriting, actually.

Four things I learned from my first attempt at livewriting:

1. Be prepared

If you’re going to be writing before a live audience, you really need to know what you’re going to be writing about. You need an outline. There’s no time to think. Unfortunately I lost my outline ten minutes before the start and couldn’t find it, which meant my chapter went WAY off-track and broke some plot points. But it was fun!

You’ve also got no time for bathroom breaks or to get that glass of water or to run around the house looking for your laptop charger (guilty as charged). So be prepared!

2. Use your audience!

Livewriting is by its nature interactive. It’s not a one way you-write-they-read process. So when you’re planning things in Step 1, make sure to plan for places where readers can make suggestions. You need to strike a fine balance for these: if you only let readers pick insignificant details like how many grapes a character eats, they’ll feel ripped off, but if you give them too much power they’ll derail your chapter entirely.

It was also nice to sit back a little and let my readers chat to each other while I took a small breather from writing. It’s interesting to see their live thoughts and reactions to your writing, and judge what’s working and what isn’t.

3. Forget about editing

Livewriting is basically a hardcore version of NaNoWriMo. Non-stop writing, get the words down, and don’t you dare go back and edit because there’s no time and no point. Yes, it can get silly, but you can always edit at a later date after the livewriting period is over.

I wrote a chapter of 1,400 words in about 40 minutes. After editing out some of the sillier suggestions and fixing the plot holes, I ended up with a 1,800 word chapter. That’s about double my normal input.

4. Have a glass of wine ready

When you’re done panicking livewriting the adrenaline high kicks in. Make sure you’ve got a glass nearby to celebrate surviving! And whatever you do, skilfully avoid requests for a repeat performance any time in the near future unless you’re sure your heart can take it.

Livewriting is not for the faint hearted. It’s panic-inducing, thrilling, entertaining, and often very silly, but it lets you connect with your readers in a way you generally don’t. It’s an art, a performance, an act of insanity.

I think MCM should start a support group.