Sam van Zweden



white night

Preparing for the Unpreparable

The start of the year always seems to go much the same way. A lull, some planning, and then I’m flung into it face-first, whether I feel prepared or not. This year is the same as every other in that sense.

Of course, sometimes I have the luxury of preparation, or at least the luxury of knowing that I CAN be prepared if I feel inclined or have the time. What I’m facing right now is a pretty intense mixture of things I can and cannot prepare for. Being a major control-freak, I’m trying to make plans, whether it’s actually possible or not.

Coming up on the 22nd of February, I’ll be bonkers and doing an all-nighter for the Digital Writers/Emerging Writers Festival event, “The Book of the Night”. For this all-night event, twelve writers (I am one of them) are being challenged to write a book within a night. To do this, the night is broken into twelve 1-hour shifts. Each writer gets a brief update on where the book is up to, then sits down and does their thing for an hour. The Wheeler Centre will be open to the public, so anyone can swing past and suggest a plot twist or a new character. It’ll be loads of fun, very interactive and new. It will also be streamed online, so if you can’t sleep or if you’re not able to make it into the city for the event, you can join in from the comfort of your couch, using the #dwf14 hashtag.

Also, it’s a little bit scary – usually before things go out into the world, they undergo some pretty serious edits. The first edit usually involves printing the thing out before screwing it up and throwing it at my wall because it’s no good. That’s not an option for The Book of the Night. So, training has involved the following:


These are hastily-prepared flash cards. I put a timer on, and I open Monica Wood’s The Pocket Muse to a random page for my starting point. Every few minutes, or whenever I start to think I might need to stop for a second, I turn over a card. Whatever is on that card (“Music”, “A phone call”, “Fear”, “Mouse!”) gets worked into the story-in-progress. This is the closest thing I can think of to what may or may not happen on the night. 

My attempt to train for the untrainable, to prepare for the unpreparable, is proving productive if nothing else. I don’t know whether I’m getting any better at writing for a whole hour straight, or any more comfortable with the idea of unedited work being accessible by the masses, but I am creating strange and wonderful things. 

Also, by the time my 5am slot rolls around, I should be suitably over-tired and delirious. This can only be a good thing.

Another thing I’m doing as part of the Digital Writers’ Festival is this panel on writers collectives and place, with Geoff from Writers Bloc and various folks from Scissors Paper Pen, Twitch, and Stilts. You don’t even have to leave your house, and this one is on before your bed-time AND after your wake-up time.

White Night Game Plan

Last year, I learned to love the Extreme Writing Event.

As part of the Emerging Writers’ Festival, I took part in some of the writing-time at the Rabbit Hole. A few weeks later, I spent a day doing something similar, and wrote 10,000 words in a day at the Future Bookshop. And the last semester of uni was really an Extreme Writing Event in itself.

In about three hours, Melbourne’s White Night event will kick off. This event will see the city running non-stop for a whole night, with performances, projections, exhibitions, and miscellaneous others happening all over the city. As part of White Night, Emerging Writers’ Festival are hosting a writers-friendly space right through from 7pm until 7am tomorrow morning. There will be performances every hour, and cosy (comfortable?) space to chill out and get some serious writing done. 

For me, it starts with a cupcake. I always feel good about things when I can contribute some delicious treats. I have a fridge full of these bad boys, ready to spike our blood sugar levels and get us through the night.

Chocolate with mint icing. Yummm!

If I learned one thing from last year’s Extreme Writing Events, it was the power of planning. I reached that 10,000 words in a day because I’d planned pretty carefully what I wanted to get written. So again, I’ve armed myself with a notebook full of jottings toward articles, and tweakings toward half-written pieces. This event is much easier, in that there’s no word-count goal. Managing to stay awake and somewhat productive is really the aim. This said, I’m still really keen to use the time to get something done.

I have a writing exercise here that I’ve been given by my mentor, and I plan to knock that over. After that, I’ll be getting stuck into a piece I’ve been planning (but not yet writing) for quite a while. If I can get down a decent draft of that piece before leaving, I’ll be a happy girl.

What happens to people when they get delirious and tired is fascinating, so I’m looking forward to scribbling down some notes for a piece about White Night itself. Other than that, I’ve got a good book, and a notebook, and cupcakes, and I’m now going to go take a nap to help me through the night. Working 10-5 tomorrow!

Hope to see you out at White Night.

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