top of page
  • Writer's pictureallieyohn

All Good (on the Surface) Things Must Come to an End

Trigger warning: Mention of child exploitation & sexual assault


In 2015, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for the first time. If you've missed my prior posts about NaNoWriMo, here's a brief rundown. NaNoWriMo is an organization centered around writers all over the world trying to write the first draft of a novel, defined as 50,000 words, in the span of November 1st through the 30th.


When I joined NaNoWriMo, I'd tried to write a novel in a month a couple of years prior. At the time, I'd heard that people were trying to write a novel in November and decided to try for that goal myself without ever realizing there was an organization/challenge I could join.


When I'd tried to write the first draft of a novel in the month of November pre-NaNoWriMo, I'd failed miserably. I didn't finish the first draft of that disaster until June.


My first year of joining NaNoWriMo, I managed to squeak past the finish line at the very last minute. Almost literally the last minute- I think I finished it at 11:50 pm on November 30th.


I've spoken before about how hard that first year had been for me. I spent most of the month so behind that reaching 50,000 words felt impossible. I'd assumed it would be yet another failure, another goal which I didn't reach. Plenty of teachers over the years told my mother, and later, my grandmother that I was smart and had a lot of promise, but I needed to try harder and focus. No matter how hard I'd tried, I could do neither.


Before my ADHD diagnosis, my life was filled-to-bursting with lofty goals followed by catastrophic failures. In private, I berated myself for being both lazy and fickle. I survived high school and college by turning everything in at the last minute. Procrastination panic was the only thing which gave my brain enough dopamine to finish a task.

ADHD procrastination panic certainly helped me over the finish line with NaNoWriMo, but I can't lay the success in finishing that rough draft solely it's feet. The possibility of a very public failure contributed as well. NaNoWriMo had a website that showed my writing progress to anyone who cared to look. The idea that those metaphorical people looking at the website might see me fail helped me reach the goal that first year.


Seven years, and six successful NaNoWriMo's, later I chose to apply as a Municipal Liaison. The role is one which acts like the cruise director on a ship. I, along with my fellow MLs (Erin, who was also new, Amanda, newer but had been a ML previously, and Kristen, who claimed she was retired but always gave us good advice behind the scenes), did everything we could to make NaNoWriMo an enjoyable experience for the folks in our region. We:


  • Created presentations on plotting and shared them in Zoom calls each week

  • Held both an in-person and virtual kick-off event so everyone could participate

  • Held a virtual kick-off at midnight on November 1st

  • Held both in-person and virtual write-ins, which let more people participate

  • Created pep talks that we gave to everyone in the region

  • Cheered successes publicly

  • Provided personal encouragement to writers who were struggling

  • Held a last gasp virtual writing event on Nov 30th at 11 pm for writers who were close, but not quite, to 50,000

  • Held both in-person and virtual "Thank God it's Over" parties with prizes

  • Both Erin and I participated in a local NPR podcast about writing and NaNoWriMo


Most members of our region seemed thankful for all that we'd done. (As with anything else, there were a few members who truly did not understand the amount of work which went on behind the scenes. That's what happens when you're too good at hosting something.)


As ML's, we spent hours over the course of three months working to make it all a success. And we were happy to do so. We were happy to help this organization and provide support to our region. We were happy to help other writers, especially new ones, reach the goal of finishing their first draft. That we'd all sign up for a second year as MLs was a given.


No large organization is without its failings. Over the years, people have complained about the winners' t-shirts NaNoWriMo sold (they were thick, cheap, and scratchy), the janky website with an irritatingly manual process of creating events for the region, and the need to have open forums even if no one in our region used them.


It was this last requirement which brought the failings of the National Org (hereby referred to as Org) behind NaNoWriMo to the forefront last November.


I've added links below, but please be aware that some of the information in those links can be triggering. The links are to the Reddit Threads explaining all of the issues as they've compiled the information from many other sources in an accessible way.


The gist of what the MLs, and then our regions, learned in the middle of NaNoWriMo last November is this: the Org failed to remove a predatory member from their Youth Writer Program (YWP) who was using the program's forums to direct children to a fetish website.


The Org failed, in part, because they relied on information obtained from one of the paid MLs in charge of this program. That ML was covering up for the predatory member by banning the youth members of the YWP who raised concerns in the forums.


When those members complained to the Org, the ML told the Org that the members filing complaints were merely disgruntled and were making false allegations. While the predatory member was removed from the YWP forums, they were allowed to remain on the main forums.


Unbeknownst to the Org, someone had reported this all to the FBI. By the time the FBI investigated the fetish website it had been scrubbed. Many believe it's because the Org either on purpose, or by accident (for example, visiting the website to investigate without the proper training to do so), tipped off the website.


The Org's response was to close the forums for the main website. They later realized that the forums on YWP were hosted on a different site and closed those as well. During the middle of NaNoWriMo without a heads up to any of the MLs about what was happening.


Once this above issue became known, many other users stepped forward to share previous instances where the Org either did something to members that was harmful or refused to resolve actual issues. These allegations include:


  • Not allowing a ML to ban a member from events who sexually harassed a 14-year-old child by trying to get them to read erotica they'd written.

  • That same member then groomed and sexually assaulted a 17-year-old child. The ML was told they could not ban this member as the events happened in public and the sexual assault happened after an event, not during it. They implied that if the victims felt unsafe it was their responsibility to stay away.

  • When asked whether a member's abusive ex could be banned if they showed up to an event, the Org once again said that the ML was not allowed to ban this person. They implied that if the victim felt unsafe, it was their responsibility to stay away.

  • Accusations of racism during racial sensitivity training.

  • Accusations that the Org refused to allow accommodations for an ML suffering from vision loss, even though the other ML in their region was fine with the accommodations and felt they worked well.


The way the Org chose to deal with the above issues was to take responsibility for their past failures.


Just kidding! It was actually to send a new ML agreement (only to some ML's) which lay all liability on the MLs, while the National Org took no liability or provided any accountability for their past mistakes. You can see the agreement here. When people with experience reading contracts/lawyers read over the agreements, they were appalled.


Included in the agreement was:

  • MLs were responsible for what members posted in the forums.

  • Regions could no longer have outside website groups, such as Facebook or Discord (which many regions used due to the accessibility of those sites over the one created by NaNo).

  • MLs could essentially not communicate with each other.

  • Rather than MLs being able to solely help in November, they were expected to make a year-long commitment to check the forums every 48 hours and to post multiple times thorughout the year.


Any ML who wrote to the Org saying they found this unacceptable received a response explaining that the Org understood that they no longer wanted to be an ML. Dissent was not allowed.


Like many other regions, our ML group found ourselves in a tough spot. We were horrified about what the Org had done, and failed to do, to protect its members. We were also deeply attached to the writers in our region and supporting them on their journey.


After much discussion among ourselves, we decided (as did MLs in multiple other regions) that none of us would be returning as MLs. We drafted a statement and posted it to our region's Facebook NaNoWriMo page (and sent it out as an official communication while we still had the authority/means to do so). If no one steps up in our region to become an ML next year, the region will likely be dissolved.


All of us are grieving the loss of an organization and a community which once felt like a safe place. We're heartbroken that, not only were bad actors involved, but they were protected by the Org. And we are horrified at how the Org chose to respond once the numerous issues were made public.


We're hopeful that in this coming year we can find ways to keep those writers who choose to follow us on our non-NaNoWriMo journey engaged. We hope they'll all still be ready to strive for a first draft of their novel in November. Or, at the very least, they can see us, and our Discord and Facebook spaces, as safe places to talk about their writing journey.



Links:

Part 2:

New ML agreement breakdown:

New ML agreement:

8 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Mentorship in the writing community

I've been writing for decades, with little success. Turns out that combining imposter syndrome, severe mental illness, and hyper criticality towards one's own work are not the formula to getting an ex

The missing stairs in the writing community

One of those things that you somehow never expect about the writing community is the number of super creepy men who use it to prey on women. For example, someone I WAS mutuals with on Twitter has now

Comments

Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page