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  • Corona Thinkers

Shh... Silent Zoom in progress by Anne Penketh

For the past week I’ve spent an hour a day in a virtual monastic retreat working on my new novel, courtesy of Zoom.

A London friend of mine, Carola, had the genius idea of subverting the video conferencing site by connecting a group of people with the sole intention of not communicating with each other.

She contacted me to ask whether I was interested in joining these Silent Zoom sessions in a writers’ room. Others who drop in include a guy in New York working on his first novel in his spare time, a journalist in Paris working on her website, and another in DC developing a podcast site.

I struggled to understand the concept – what’s the point of joining Zoom if there’s no conversation, which we all crave in the age of corona. But I agreed to give it a try for an hour after Carola said: try to imagine it as working in a library, and now I’m completely hooked. Three of us continued our Silent Zoom sessions over the weekend as they’ve proved so productive for us all.

For Carola, it’s a way of shutting the door on her three teenage children, and the rules ban answering emails and phone calls. I find that having a daily “appointment” and forced to sit at my desk at a certain time every day is a welcome discipline. What’s more, knowing I have an hour to focus on something has made me target specific issues, for example rounding a character, or solving a plot problem. But the other, broader, advantage for me as someone living on my own, is to know that I have company out there, even if we’re not speaking to each other. It’s strangely comforting. And there’s a sense of community: Rik in New York said at the end of the last session that he looks forward to sharing a real cup of coffee with us…

At the start of each session we greet each other, and newcomers explain their writing project. Then Carola, the host, mutes us all so that we’re not disturbed by throat clearing and the like. As soon as I call up my Word document, it masks the other Zoomers, but I can look at them at any time, with their heads bowed over their laptops. Mercifully there’s no sharing or reading aloud the results of our labour. Sometimes I get so engrossed in what I’m doing that when one person switched her mic back on to let us know she had to leave early, it made me jump.

Carola, who holds two sessions daily during the week, doesn’t claim any originality for the idea, and points to Focusmate as another site which aims to encourage people to concentrate on specific projects and boost creativity. But this one is for the sole purpose of writing, and she’s keen to keep the group small rather than stack up tiers of people like we’re used to seeing on Zoom.

I’d recommend it, so if you like the idea of an enforced hour of peace and quiet while being connected to the wider world – set up your own Silent Zoom!

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