What keeps me coming back to RoW80
by Elizabeth Mitchell
To my surprise, I realized a few days ago that I have been in RoW80 for six and a half years, having joined for Round Three in 2011. In that time, I have only officially sat out one Round, although, if I am honest, I have been spotty about my accountability in several other Rounds. However, I found that I did not come close to meeting my goals in the Round I sat out, while in the ones where I hung in despite missing check-ins, I got more accomplished than I did on my own.
Therefore, accountability is among the reasons, and perhaps the most immediate one, that I have participated in RoW80 all these years. Having to admit in writing that I spent far too much time bingeing on Netflix or playing video games means that I often will do some writing to avoid the self-inflicted shame.
Flexibility in that accountability is the second reason that I keep returning to RoW80, “the challenge that knows you have a life.” Since July 2011, I have changed day jobs, moved 1,146 miles, rented one house, bought another one, gotten tenure, written four esoteric academic articles, and suffered various slings and arrows of life. The ability to adjust goals when life happens is unusual in many challenges (NaNo, for all its positive values, does not care what life hands one in November), and invaluable to me.
However, the third reason I have remained in RoW80 all these years is the community. When I joined in 2011, I was living in interior northwest Florida, 40 miles away from the nearest RoWer, and more than 100 miles from any local groups of writers. I am lucky now to live in a place with a vibrant and supportive chapter of RWA, a wonderful NaNo group that meets throughout the year, not just in November, and a couple of RoWers who live close enough to meet often. Even so, the online community of Row80 is special to me. I would not have joined NaNo or RWA without my involvement in RoW80. I have made several friends through RoW80, and I am often surprised to realize that I’ve never met them in person. The group is supportive and generous with its time and expertise. Having a tough time with a plot point or how a piece reads? We have a lot of experts in the group. Send out a hail on the Facebook page or post a link to your blog and you will receive help. In the way that some communities have, RoW80 has its own spirit, its own ethos, that has not changed despite changes in admins and added formats.
Have a day job meltdown or family crisis? No one will chastise you for not meeting your goals, but will cheer you on to start back on them as soon as you are able. Since I have been knocked down by life in the past five years, I can say with experience, don’t undermine yourself by feeling apologetic for not getting enough done, or being laid low by life. Just keep working on it, knowing you have support, not judgment or negative criticism. Many years ago, I was struck by a statement in a RoWer’s goal post. C. M. Cypriani wrote, “Where before I wrote in solitude, I now write with friends. I enjoy sharing my writing now instead of hiding it, embarrassed, worried no one would like it. The support I’ve gathered has been phenomenal.” I agree wholeheartedly.