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.