that time I wrote 25,000 words in 19 hours.

They called it the Rabbit Hole writing challenge. I called it the Viet Cong Tunnel of Writing. You can make it sound as fanciful as you like Emerging Writers’ Festival, but we went to war that weekend.

The mission, should you choose to accept it, you crazy mofo, is to write 30,000 words in 22 hours over 3 days. It had to be impossible. I set my brain the task of working out the logistics. It couldn’t be done. But it had to be. People have done this before and that scared me. I just had to sit down and do it.

At the time I was what you might call ‘a struggling writer’, a term that has never been used ever before in the history of anything. I would try to write one page, just a measly little page, of a novel draft and I couldn’t do it without trying to edit the whole thing and then burn it to the ground. So basically by undertaking this challenge, I was coming down from the roof suspended by a cord, dodging imaginary lasers to get to the bottom.

I left work early and rode to the supermarket to stock up on an assortment of energy foods, namely Ovaltines and Kit Kats (have a break? have a Kit Kat? I’LL TAKE ONE MILLION OF THEM). Other procrastination food included stocking up on string cheese, iced coffee, red bull and maybe an apple just to balance it out. I used my bike Clomo as a makeshift shopping trolley.

I was running out of time before the 6pm start and couldn’t complete a last minute manic clean of the house, which upset the obsessive compulsive within. I wasn’t even wearing special writing sweat pants that I could be proud of because I didn’t own any (this has since been rectified). The Tweets and Facebook comments on our collective page were making me anxious. My head was swarming with abandoned tumble weed, knowing that my general brain area was a barren landscape devoid of inspiration. People were talking about the notes they had prepared in advance to help them along. The only notes I had were in the form of a to-do list:

‘BUY OVALTINES. CLEAN HOUSE’.

Check and no check.

When the clock switched to 6pm, the writing commenced. I sat there, paralysed, utterly dumbfounded. I couldn’t get my fingers to move fast enough, if at all. The idea was to post when you reached 1000. I couldn’t even get to 100. What the hell was happening? I never have writer’s block. I might end up writing like a deranged clown but the words are there regardless. On this day the words were not there. I was lost. I ate some Ovaltines. I made myself a tea. I sat back down, closed my eyes,shut out the impending panic attack, breathed in and out and listened to the wise words of child prodigy Laura Marling. She’ll know what to do.

Soon enough, the words began to crawl out, slowly, timidly. I felt how bad and clunky it all sounded, not to mention the atrocious grammar. All my writing habits were slowly annihilated. But I stopped caring at maybe the 550 word mark. I kicked my inner perfectionist out the door in a grand spectacle, maintaining that they were no longer welcome in the chaotic frenzy that had since taken over my body.

I wrote with a carefree abandon, stepping outside of myself to watch in awe as ideas began to form, raw and on their own accord, as though I had minimal control over them. I watched as segments came into their own, knowing that the story existed, it was just a matter of telling it now. When I finished one part, I didn’t go back and edit. I just kept going on the good ship that sailed across a sea of words. Occasionally I would break that rule and go back to read what I had written, surprising myself that it wasn’t all bad. The best part were the nuggets of ideas that formed in the middle of the chaos. I was forced to come up with them to make the space, but they were beautiful in the end.

When I hit 25,000 words before the finish line, knowing I had missed 3 hours in which I could have written perhaps another 4,000 words, my hand was numb, my brain exhausted. The number didn’t matter. I collapsed into a heap on the desk and then walked around in a state of delirium, randomly high fiving anything I could, like the fridge or the pantry door. I giggled and did a little victory dance.

It was not easy to say the least. What surprised me though was how easy it was to put my social life on the back burner. This was the part I expected would be the most difficult. In actual fact,I was happy to have the excuse of prioritising this very important part of my life over the time and money-wasting activities we feel compelled to attend constantly.

I was also overwhelmed by the reaction I received from others. Everyone had an opinion about how incredulous it all was, some wishing they had joined in. It was nice to discover that people were also curious about what I was working on, exclaiming that they couldn’t wait for it to be finished (might be waiting a while there bud).

In the end the only thing that mattered was this: the fact that I did it, that I was writing again and most importantly, that I was ‘writing like a motherfucker’ quote Sugar unquote.

 

NB: I actually wrote this last year but forgot to publish it. I was reminded of it again after stumbling across an event in my calendar that I had completely missed in my feed. It was wonderfully named ‘Aspiring Writers Collective Weekend’ and it is, you guessed it, a 30,000 word challenge, created by a lovely friend of mine named James. Here’s the best part though: this little footnote: PS. Kudos to Sheree (that’s meee) from whom this idea was plagiarised after her participation in the Emerging Writers’ Festival last year.’

Boom. Inspiring the shit out of people since 2012.

eagle eye

A film magazine editor has taken to calling me ‘Eagle Eye’ for meticulously picking up his typos. This is like that time an entire office nicknamed me Words Joseph. Some random person (not in on the lingo) would be like ‘hey Sheree’, and I wouldn’t answer, too busy writing 50,000 words a minute.

The Creative Director would call out ‘Hey Words, someone is talking to you’.

‘Yeah what, need some copy written, what do you need, no worries I can do that *types really fast* HERE YOU GO, IT’S DONE!’

I miss being a copywriter, back when words were everything.

enter the golden era of writing…

I started writing this as an email until I realised the year is not 1999 and I have a blog. This is an apt realisation, considering that the topic of the aforementioned email was around revolutionary means of communication.

Enter Medium.

From some of the geniuses that brought you the groundbreaking Blogger and Twitter (that micro thing with the tiny bluebirds which you can read more about here thanks to Sam Twyford-Moore writing so nicely about it and Teju Cole, who is awesome), comes Medium, a wonderful content haven that organises submitted content like text and photos into collections that can be viewed and edited by the public.

‘Medium is elegant and easy’ they said in a blog post, ‘and geared toward those looking for a simple way to post to the Internet without taking on the responsibility of a personal blog brand.’

“Our philosophy is that quality begets quality, so we will grow Medium smartly, ensuring that our platform is valuable to everyone in this increasingly mobile, connected, and noisy world,” said Williams.

Been there, loved that is the perfect example of how they use collections for photos.

And my personal favourite already: Writers on Writing.

***

I haven’t been this impressed with a social medium since I first discovered my French exchange student friend using a site called SkyBlog in 2004. It was a French blogging platform. She put a photo up of me that was quite lovely, so I showed this friend of mine who was much older and who had a crush on me and he left an awkward comment declaring his love for me on the photo and I was all like, noooo, now the French are going to know that an older man likes me and that I was narcisssistic enough to show it to him in the first place, my life is over, what fresh hell is this Internet thing!?!

It was all in French but the message was there: meet the Future.

Often I fall into a Black Hole Vortex of Mindless Meandering on the Internet, I come out of it dazed and confused, annoyed at myself for the inconsequential outcome, mainly of an infinite amount of BuzzFeed animals jumping mid air or studying Ryan Gosling’s face for any signs of other life species.

Since stumbling upon Medium (after reading ‘7 new Social Media you must try in 2013!’ that I undoubtedly discovered while holidaying in the Internet Black Hole Vortex), I feel that I can now jump into the aforementioned Vortex and still come out enlightened, educated, intrigued, surprised, excited and wanting desperately to contribute something, while also recommending things I appreciate to other people worthy of these things. Which is really how the Internet should make you feel.

I am overwhelmed now with the possibilities for me as a writer, in a way that I haven’t felt since seeing my first article published online. Admittedly I felt frustration over the years with online publishing and how ‘easy’ it all seemed. There was always someone behind the screen controlling the narrative, the puppeteer you had to ‘convince’ to publish your work but who would then go on to betray the code by changing your words to the point of them being unrecognisable simply to suit their site’s style and feel and voice. Don’t get me started on the comments section, the internet version of the Angry Villagers Carrying Pitchforks.

I secretly dreaded this world and didn’t want any part of it as a writer, but outwardly pretended I did, for who wouldn’t want to be part of the burgeoning digital content age? The elderly, that’s who. I half heartedly ‘contributed’ to a few pages but I was lazy and apathetic. Starting up my own blog was liberating and an antidote to that feeling of nothingness but it still felt like a small, silent enclave that very few people were actually reading, mainly because I was far too unmotivated to reach out to anyone.

What I adore about Medium is how it’s the first social platform that is actually attempting to focus on and encapsulate that elusive thing that good content creators have long strived for. It’s the answer to everything we’ve ever wanted; rich, quality, long form storytelling that is not condensed, dismissed or discarded as inferior. We want content that is easily accessible to anyone who has the good stuff at the ready. We want that verb we all crave so much: TO FILTER so that we can filter through the bullshit.

Oh yes, everyone is a publisher now! And you’re happy for the democracy of that revolution. But what about the revolution that filters the ‘everything’ on the internet from the mundane, repetitive, boring; leaving you with the incredible, awe-inspiring, life changing shit that makes you hit the ‘RECOMMEND’ button so hard, it might fall out? When does the internet become known for the good stuff lurking in the shadows?

Now, starting here.

Here’s a thrilling tid bit but from an article on the platform already:

‘Enter the writer’s internet.’

‘We’re about to enter a golden era of writing again. A gray area full and robust with opportunity. Writers will likely be able to write for a living more than any other time online, and potentially, be paid better for it. If blogs opened a crack for writing online, the next three years will be as if a door opened to an enormous new frontier of possibility. It’s going to be magical to see.’

magic, summer

 The strongest memory I have as a tiny human child is that of being sprayed with water, directly in my face, with a hose. This visceral image is hard to erase, for it characterises subsequent years and begs the question: why was I being hosed down with the force field of litres and litres of water? Where were the water conservation laws we all know and love? What dirt did I have on the other kids for them to torture me so?

And yet to the trained eye, it wasn’t torture at all. Instead it was reprieve from the swell summer heat which engulfed you as a 90s child growing up in Sydney We didn’t have a pool and we never got around to buying that air conditioner we were always promised (‘we live in a brick house, it’s cooler than most houses. HERE, HAVE THIS USELESS FAN!’)

We had to make do with whatever available cooling method we had at the time. This meant coming up with a variety of activities like running through the sprinklers in your cossie in a kind of ‘dodge the water, but not really, I love you water!’ game, eating ‘sunny boy’ ice blocks, playing ‘Olympics’ by pretending to swim on the ground (‘MY ELBOWS!!’), pretending to go ice skating on mopped floors, making our ice blocks from those plastic things you filled with tropical juice and then abandoning it for the ice cream truck outside. Putting pillows under our clothes to go ‘scuba diving’ and using lego as snorkel masks. You know, normal every day kid stuff (except for that last one, not really sure what we were thinking there).

Our backyard had no fence, only tall pine trees about 10 metres tall. It was like our own private forest sanctuary, to do as we pleased, like pitch tents and pretend we were camping because it was too hot inside. The nights were harder to ignore with our jovial idiosyncrasies. Wearing as little clothing as possible, I remember lying on the tiles with the fan on full blast, crying out for someone to feed me a watermelon, and would it kill you to cut up a mango?

As a 24-year-old, I’m starting to appreciate just how blissfully unaware we were to reality. I can still smell burning trees and remember how every now and again there was a heavy fog from the smoke. And yet we’d just shrug it off, despite living moments from the bush. We didn’t watch the news, that annoying show your parents tried to watch instead of The Simpsons. Bushfires? Nah. Some other day.

Fast forward to 2013 and it’s predicted to be 43 degrees tomorrow and everyone is in a panic – as though they’ve never seen a day like this before, even though this day was our childhood. I wanted to escape the summer holidays in Australia this year and instead pretend to be a Hobbit in New Zealand. I had this fear that if I stayed, I would fall into a mundane and sad pattern, one that sees people eating ice cream and watching movies at 10am in the morning, crying ‘nobody loves me!’ (look, it was just that one time). But alas my fate was to be here in a city so familiar; I stopped believing it could give me the same summer-y sustenance in adulthood.

And then, an awakening. It began with a Christmas of nostalgia, coupled with the grown up goodness of drinking a 70% alcoholic moonshine-esque spirit and a $300 bottle of Whisky between my uncles, my male cousins and us two girls. OH HELLO CHRISTMAS, sang drunk Tiny. This year they even remembered to buy the prawns and seafood, so it really did feel like Christmas down under. There was a balmy, humidity to the air and a slight chance of rain. I felt sad for reasons entirely separate to this day. It reminded me of how summer is that awkward time where you feel obliged to be happy and how can you not, when everything is so golden and perfect? And yet the sadness internalises somehow, sits below the surface and feels heavier despite the lightness in your soul and in your feet.

This year summer started to creep back into that old gal it used to be, salsa dancing back into our hearts and shimmying right back into the thin cotton dresses that hung loosely on the body. There’s an air conditioner in the future too. No more lying on cool tiles (unless you’re hungover). There was that night after burning hot tacos (‘it tastes like burning!’), where, laden with tequila, gin, pizza and frozen margaritas, we left the last bar at 3am only to find ourselves in cabs headed east to a harbourside beach closed off by a half circle jetty and with a floating platoon in the middle for jumping off. We stripped bare and ran into the cold water, letting it sober us up enough to remember how the hell the night went. There’s nothing like this, I remember thinking, nothing like an ocean all to yourself, waking your heart up with a few splashes.

Then a voice calls out from the shore.

‘Girls, I need you to come out of the water’

‘Who the hell is that guy?’

‘I’m the police’.

Abated with bashfulness, my best buddy and I paddled a little closer while the other two female comrades were standing on the tip of the platoon, half preparing to dive towards the shore, half ready to turn the other way and escape to the ocean. I heard one whisper,

‘Do we jump or dive? Or slide in gracefully?’

The police officer explained in an amused tone that we could keep swimming, we just needed to keep the noise down because of the residents. He said he wished that he could have been swimming with us instead of telling us to keep quiet but alas, he could not. There there, sweet man of the blue uniform, I’m sure our paths will cross again some day soon. Remember our naive and joyful cries then!

And so we went and dived and splashed into the darkness, more subdued this time, feigning quiet, feeling the heaviness sink to the bottom and the lightness lifting us up.

Drying off the next day and then recovering with a two day hangover, I accompanied the loveliest boy to the Moonlight Cinema to see The Master, (it was masterful). Every now and again you could see the fireflies dancing across the screen and in our vision. Bats flew overhead and the fresh air was sublime.

master

It seemed as though all the moments were created at the same time, somehow tumbling around each other in a steady stream: sitting on a great big rock, perched above the cove, eating a seafood basket and drinking lemonade from a vintage can, diving into the water face first, cold, perfect. Sitting on a rock eating a frosty fruit ice block, dripping down one hand. Gigantic waves crashing around your head and you don’t even care, you need reprieve from the scorching hot sand burning your feet. You dive deep and quick and only return for air before diving again like some kind of ceremonious, manic baptism. You feel the slight tinge of sunburn now on your nose, feel the freckles spreading across your face as you linger in the calmer rock pool with an insidious yet strong current taking you back to shore. You swim against the current like a crazy puppy, realising how futile it is but not caring, digging your feet into the sand and spreading your arms out, as though the water is the wind and you’re being swept off your feet.

You eat hot chips during the day and only mangoes at night.

You get home only to feel restlessness again. Your feet are aching to wander. Still wearing a light cotton white dress and having not yet showered from the beach, you hop on your bicycle and peddle to a friend’s house, someone who needs you now more than you need your own solitariness. A taxi tries to run you over. You  kick it from the safety of the bicycle. You emerge unscathed, turning into a plethora of tiny lanes masquerading as streets! You are lost but giddy and at some point when you find the right street, you wonder if you can pump the air with your fist, or would that be too silly after the near death taxi experience you just survived? You pump the air anyway, triumphantly. Shut up Taxi driver, I win!

You drink gin and tonic garnished with lemon and ice in a jam jar with icy cold precipitation, pressing it against your flushed face while your girlfriends bake pies and talk about love and hilarious heartache. You eat German chocolate, drink tea and laugh while their drunk housemate eats an entire roast chicken while standing up, not wanting to sit on the special chair in case he gets chicken on it.

You start to ride home, only to realise you forgot your glasses. Your best friend laughs at you as you come rolling back, the blind girl on the bicycle. You drive dangerously on the empty streets, glancing at the balconies adorned with fairy lights and leafy trees obscuring their contents.

They say that tomorrow is going to be 43 degrees and you think,

Come at me 43 degrees. I was born inside you.

cove

beach

frosty fruit

GT

flower

memoir

‘The summer of 2012/2013 also happened to be the summer that they frolicked at night, nearly nude, drunk in the secluded beaches and again in the rooftop pools, like that time after midnight/ early morn of the first day of the new year, when a young damsel popped open a bottle of champagne and sprayed the pool-revelers with the golden bubbles and they showered in the promise of all that was to come.’

– Extract from a chapter of our collective future memoirs/pretending I’m F.Scott Fitzgerald.

beach