Sam van Zweden



rabbit hole

A 10,000 Word Day

Having watched many amazing people participate in The Rabbit Hole during the Emerging Writers’ Festival, I’ve no shortage of respect for those who can write large amounts in relatively short periods of time. Part of it is about the ability to continue producing work continuously, so the brain-power, but the other part is something else entirely, it’s about being able to sit still and do one thing for that long. It’s admirable, and I’d like to join the club of people who challenged themselves and surprised themselves with what they could do. I joined in for a few hours during The Rabbit Hole, but I’d like to give a really long haul a shot.

So here I am today, at the Future Bookshop (at NGV Studio) from 10am to 10pm. There will be a break in the middle for a meeting at 12.30, then straight back into it. The aim: 10,000 words in 12 hours. Possible, right? That’s 833 words an hour. Minus the time I’ll be at this meeting, so let’s count on just over a thousand words an hour. That’s achievable.

…Or is it?

I’m starting the day at the work table – not letting the posture go to shit until at least after lunch. Later in the day I’m allowed to crash in a beanbag or couch, but for right now – posture’s the bomb. There’s a lot of foot traffic coming and going through the Atrium, where the freakin’ huge Saturday Book Market is on. I’ve already started making deals with myself – at 5,000 words, I can go buy books. I’ve put a sheet of paper up on the ideas wall to track my progress, with check-in times for my wordcounts throughout the day.

I have troops on side, Lisa Dempster currently in a couch by the window, and Karen Andrews working furiously on an iPad beside me. No doubt they’ll help keep me going, and vice versa.

I’ll keep you updated via Twitter and Facebook, and I’ll do another post about the experience tonight or tomorrow!

Rabbit Hole Wrap-Up

Having taken a few days to sleep and get back into the rhythm of everyday life (still not quite there yet), I’m feeling ready to look back at the Rabbit Hole experience.

For those who don’t know (WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE?!?!?!), the Rabbit Hole was a three-day writing marathon, in which participants aimed to write 30,000 words each, run as part of the 2012 Emerging Writers’ Festival. With four teams (Brisbane, Melbourne, Hobart and online), plus people playing along from home, we had upwards of 80 people all furiously writing between the 1st and 3rd of June.

As intern for the Emerging Writers’ Festival, I managed the Melbourne and online teams. For me this meant lots of work prior to the event: finding hosts, writing copy for programs and participant call-outs for blogs, figuring out a budget, organizing venues and websites/groups/emails, finding writers crazy enough to participate (surprisingly, we had waiting lists for both teams as long as my arm!), organizing milestone marker bonuses and catering. Plus the event was being run in Queensland (the Queensland Writers’ Centre are the creators of the event, the EWF were lucky enough to collaborate on the event) and Tasmania too, so there was a lot of emails between the three states to get everything running smoothly.

Enough about my awesome internship which gave me lots of opportunities and responsibilities and skills… Oh, there I go again!

Team Melbourne hunkered down with Jason Nahrung, who was well dedicated and not only kept up the banter online and within the room (see: explosions of applause for writers, initiation of #haveapencil, participants showered with chocolate) but he also joined in the writing and had his head down and fingers flying across the keyboard just like the participants. The glow of laptop screens lit up the Wheeler Centre workshop space (apart from Nicola Opt’Hoog, who did the challenge longhand!), and healthy rivalry between participants meant that everyone chased everyone else’s word-counts as they went up on the whiteboard.

Team Melbourne had a cheer squad composed of writers from other teams, states, and people around the EWF who weren’t even participating in the Rabbit Hole. One such writer (Owen Vandenberg, bless his heart) even cooked biscuits, vegan ones, in his home, and dropped them off to help fuel the writing bunnies. (Example Tweet from the moment of realization of said cookies: “Oh my god… there are oreos INSIDE these goddamn choc chip cookies. What kind of magical genius is this??? Who is responsible? #rabbithole”). Too cool.

The Melbourne weekend finished with two writers crossing the 30K mark. Even those with word-counts on the lower end of the scale had around 10,000 words – I don’t remember the last time I wrote that much toward any one project. I sat myself next to the snacks desk (it was the only available seat, I swear!) and got to overhear all the great water-cooler conversations about strategy (Pomodoro, biscuits, chapter outlines), and what everyone was working on. Aside from the amazing amounts of work produced, the networking and sharing of creative excitement was what made the event so great.

The online team (who called themselves Team Awesome until the 2nd of June, when it was changed to Team Amazeface in light of smashing goals and word-counts) was led by Patrick O’Duffy, whose intense energy and never-ending supply of writing-related lolcatz kept everyone enthusiastic.

Events that are run entirely in a digital space are becoming more common – the EWF ran Twitter Fest again this year, which included daily panels on a range of subjects, plus EWF digital was a whole side-festival in itself. I’m part of “The Subcommittee”, an online writers’ group of sorts. I’m getting more and more comfortable with things happening entirely in digital space, but it never gets any less cool. So as you would imagine: Team Awesome/Amazeface was cool for its digital novelty. It was also cool for its bunch of amazing writers, who managed to make some exciting organic stuff happen, similar to the water-cooler sharing in the face-to-face team.

In planning an event, there’s only a certain amount of planning you can do, and then the event happens. In its happening, it takes over and… well, it just happens. Without prompting, the online team started sharing their words at regular intervals during the day. They also shared bits of their lives, and so the team-members got to know one another and  sympathize with things like cravings for heat packs: one member got one, and then everyone did. I couldn’t plan that kind of closeness.

The sharing of work fit nicely into the blog that Patrick and I set up for the online team as a milestone reward for hitting the 20,000 word mark. Hopefully it gives you, dear Reader, a taste of what was being produced over the weekend.

Probably the most rewarding thing to come out of the weekend was how many people commented that they’d achieved more than they expected to, or thought they could. People surprised themselves – isn’t that freakin’ awesome?!

Mine isn’t the only wrap-up post or reflection on the Rabbit Hole experience, so here are a heap more, if you care to check them out. They’re from Rabbit Hole participants all over the country.
– Megan Burke at Literary Life live blogging Day 2
– Patrick O’Duffy blogs his experience of the Rabbit Hole
– Duncan Felton blogged his first 1000 words and keep-going strategy
– Miriam Zolin blogged her preparations for the Rabbit Hole
– Phill English (Toothsoup Phill) reflected on his experience
– Jodi Cleghorn shared her planning process and tips
– Amanda Druck updated us on her progress

Thanks once again to the Queensland Writers’ Centre for letting us in on such an exciting event – writers all over the country got so much out of the weekend, and I had a blast being involved!

…And of course, thanks for EWF for having me on board as an intern – I’ve made amazing friends, learned a lot about myself and gained a heap of new skills (making badges! spreadsheets! QR codes!). I’m sure this won’t be my last post about the EWF experience though, so more gushing in later posts.

But WHY does it WORK?

Last night I joined in writing for the Rabbit Hole for about 3 hours. Today I’ve been largely pottering around with the online team on Facebook and Twitter, providing munchy provisions for Melbourne, and coffee for myself. Sitting so close to the snacks table again today is dangerous, dangerous stuff.

Last night I managed to write over 2,900 words. Given that this was in three interrupted hours (catering wench is most important in this venue!), I’m really happy with my output. And I managed to write some scenes I’d been avoiding or struggling with for ages.

Last night I woke at 3am, and lay in bed thinking for a while. Almost 3000 words in three hours is really good for me. I wrote more in three hours than I have in the last week. So why does the Rabbit Hole work?

Possible answers:
– No procrastination tools. There’s no housework to be done,  no TV to watch and no to-do lists to make you feel guilty. The things that normally crop up to help writers avoid their writing are all stripped away.
– Public Censure. In a room full of people pounding away at the keys, you feel a bit shit for not doing the same when you know very well that you’ve got no excuse, and you signed up for this.
– Competitiveness. That girl just hit 3,000 words. What?! Yeah. Right. Need to get there too.
– What you owe to yourself. Knowing that you’ve got this opportunity, and that these opportunities are rare helps drive home the fact that you owe this to yourself.

These are my top theories. If you took part in the Rabbit Hole, or you have in the past, and you can think of other reasons, let me know. I’m interested in nutting out why I can write this amount here, but not at home alone. Am I just lacking discipline?

Down the Rabbit Hole…

It’s been pretty busy here at the Wheeler Centre. At 6pm last night, 20 writers came together in the workshop space upstairs and sat down to write.

This is The Rabbit Hole, where the goal is to write 30,000 words in 22 hours. The numbers have been crunched, and it’s something like 1,300 words per hour. There are four teams, each of 20 people. There’s a Facebook group and a #rabbithole hashtag, plenty of tea, coffee, and snacks. Little incentives and lots of sharing of lollies.

These guys are dedicated, and the room sounds AMAZING. Yeah, sounds. The sound of twenty people typing in unison is a glorious thing! It’s like standing at an indoor pool, where plashing waves take over any other sounds and it sort of ebbs around you. That’s what the tapping of keys sounds like in the workshop space at the Wheeler Centre.

It’s now 4:08 on day 2, and I’m just jumping down the Rabbit Hole myself. Up until this point I’ve been hanging out on the online forum, manning the Twitter hashtag (#rabbithole), which has been plagued by a bunch of spam which has required lots of “report @… for spam” clicks. The good thing, though, is that even with the spammy stuff in the stream, we’re still dominating the #rabbithole hashtag! Reports are flooding in from Brisbane, Hobart, online and Melbourne.

I thought I’d start my jump down the Rabbit Hole with this post, to let people know how it’s going.

Scratch that, 4:21. A lot of my job so far has involved making sure we’re in supply of mugs and that the urn is full. This sounds easy, but somehow 20 people go through a LOT of coffee and tea. You’ve got to fuel 1,300 words and hour with something!

Other than the catering stuff, I’ve been playing with the online team on their Facebook page.

When we first jumped into this endeavour, I heard that Queensland Writers’ Centre (brilliant originators of this initiative) had challenged writers to chalk up 30,000 words in a weekend. “Nuh. No way!”

But it’s been done, and it’s a LOT of fun to see it being done in front of my eyes here. One of our writers just hit the 15,000 word mark (!!!) – we’re now 8 and a half hours in. That’s not even half way.

It’s also really nice to be the contact point for lots of people – I’m getting to hear about new projects that are in the pipe line, and what people plan to do with their work when it’s done.

So. This is 400-something words toward the Rabbit Hole. Sorry it’s a mostly unedited gush, I thought I’d just keep ya’ll in the loop.

See you when I surface!


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