The virgin smokes a cigar: The afterglow from 100 days of creativity

Read this article and more in Weve

Last year Paul showed me an article in the local suburban paper. It was an interview with Emma Rogan talking about the 100 days project – a small creative exercise, once a day for 100 days. I wanted to give it a try so I decided to write a short story (about 100 words) each day incorporating a randomly selected word from Afterliff: A new dictionary of things there should be words for. To seal the deal and to make sure I didn’t chicken out part-way through, I published my stories on my blog for all to see.

I’m the kinda gal who enjoys challenges. I’ve bungy-jumped in Queenstown, eaten haggis and presented in front of 500+ people.

Bungy-jumping is the scariest thing ever. Standing on a teeny tiny platform high above a rapidly flowing river, watching a teeny tiny inflatable boat waiting to haul you in, listening to an instructor telling you he’ll count you down but won’t push you, and at least 100 people watching stupid dicks like me pay to jump off a bridge. THAT is absolutely terrifying.

So terrifying that the instructor counted me down twice and I still didn’t jump. I took sadistic pleasure in knowing he couldn’t push me. Hah! I hyperventilated, I visualised myself celebrating at the end like they tell you to do when you try something for the first time, and still I didn’t jump.

And then after I’d got all that out of my system (not because the instructor told me if I didn’t jump soon he was going to untie my legs and I’d have to walk back across the bridge where everyone could see me), I jumped. I screamed. I survived (I’ve got it on video if you don’t believe me).

I’m not afraid of challenges; but stepping over that point of no return, feeling the fear, imagining all the things that could go so horribly wrong, trying not to cry? THAT is bloody scary.

Stepping over the point of no return with this project was no exception. I fretted about putting it on my blog in such a public space. I fretted about writing stories that other people would think were lame. I fretted about whether I could stick it out for 100 days. Do you know how long that is? Do you? I fretted about everything. But in the end my enthusiasm triumphed over my fear. I started. I continued to fret for 100 days. I was anxious about every story. I had an adrenaline rush with every story.

I hated each word and I loved every word. I am in awe of novelists. If I had known just how hard it is to tell an engaging story that captures the reader’s interest I would never have started.

Knowing the basic mechanics helped. Sort of. A beginning, middle and end provided a structure to help the story flow; while I desperately tried to convey atmosphere, use witty repartee and build intricate worlds. It may have been possible under different conditions but I couldn’t do it. in a way that satisfied me, within a 24 hour turnaround. Alas, I settled for capturing a brief moment in a character’s life.

The word for Day 1 was mastrils (pl.n alarming or unconventional pets such as ferrets or anacondas). It took, oh about, 23 hours to get this story written and thanks to Entertainment Tonight and the eccentricities of Hollywood celebrities it came together in a piece inspired by Paris Hilton.

Just another manic monkey
“That stupid *bleeep* monkey just bit me!” Clarice screamed. 

“Clarice’s cute collection of mastrils has accompanied her on the red carpet many times. But just how dangerous are Clarice’s exotic pets? Our reporter Juan Rodriguez is at the hospital now. Juan what can you tell us?”

“Kelly, Clarice was rushed to hospital earlier today after her monkey, Princess, supposedly went crazy and bit her on the leg. Doctors are treating Clarice for suspected rabies but it’ll be at least ten days before we know for certain if Clarice is in the clear. Meanwhile, celebrity pet therapist, Fleur Thiel has spoken to Princess and says Princess is adamant she doesn’t have the rabies virus.”

Writing stories about Hollywood celebs was not something I could have predicted I would write about, but funnily enough none of the stories were. They all delightfully surprised me. The scenes I rehearsed in my head never quite worked out the same on paper. In my head I imagined sweeping cinematic movie trailers, while on paper they morphed into Secret Santa.

The most powerful artifact in all of accounting
I pull a piece of paper out of the hat and look at the name written on it. Curtis. I smile with relief.

This is my first Christmas at Grey Chapman Chartered Accountants and I was worried I’d get one of the partners who I don’t really know very well. Curtis is a big Lord of the Rings fan so it should be easy enough to find a Secret Santa gift for him.

At lunch time I pop out to the $2 shop to see what I can find and voilà, there it is. The One Ring, soon to be re-labeled as The Eakring* – the Greatest of all the Rings of Power and the most Powerful Artifact in all of Accounting. Perfect.

*A token of undying thrift.

Using random words from Afterliff: the new dictionary of things there should be words for, caused more than a few stunned mullet moments. I oscillated between using the word to set the plot or using the word in a small part of the storyline. I think some of my best stories were stories that just happened to contain the word of the day.

Invasion of the body snatchers
Troesel, Thelina and Turnich have been assigned a three week reconnaissance mission. After advising the three Alphabeasts of the importance of remaining undetected, the Dolphbot lets them choose their Earthling hosts.

Two weeks later: There have been several reports of unusual communications between John Key, Winston Peters and Kim Dotcom.  It is alleged that the three have been secretly meeting to discuss a new future together. When questioned, all three vehemently deny such allegations. David Cunliffe remains ab lench*, as usual.

Three weeks later: The Alphabeast Commander awards Turnich the highest honour for his successful invasion of David Cunliffe’s body.

*Not up for anything much, really: The opposite of ‘gung-ho’. 

Death by a thousand cuts
So many words have been taken from us. Removed from human consciousness and lost forever. The number of blank spaces in printed material is growing day by day and soon we will witness the slow death of our conversations.

I stand at the big hulking machine and wait for it to spit out the next word that I must erase. I am being punished for my insolence but I have not been broken, yet. Tomorrow I will give my daughter a birthday present she alone will remember. I will give her the word ‘wyre piddle*’ and she will keep it alive within her.

*A small child with its shoes on the wrong feet.

About two dozen people unsubscribed from my blog within the first week of 100 Days of Creativity. I fretted. Were my stories that bad? Should I only post ‘library stuff’? What if others left? And then about two dozen people subscribed to my blog within the second week of the project. They weren’t ‘library types’, they were ‘writer types’.

I fretted again. By Day 30, I was over it. Whatever you do, whatever happens people will judge you. Yes, it worried me.  But it didn’t stop me because there were others who silently supported my effort, or commented on stories that resonated with them, or like Steph and Sabine generously suggested plot ideas during a creative slump.

It’s moments like these
The inside was just as Bine imagined most high school reunions to look like. Awkward. ‘Bine, is that you? It’s so great to see you!’ Bine smiled and gave Tessa a hug. Steph gave Bine an odd look and unsuccessfully tried to catch her eye as the two began talking like they were the best of friends, not her and Steph. 

During a pause in the conversation, Bine had a rackwallace* moment. She turned to Steph with a look of horror. This wasn’t Tessa, this was Charlotte. The Charlotte who pushed her into the diving pool where she floundered before being rescued by the lifeguard. ‘Gotta go’ said Bine, dragging Steph with her. 

*The awful realisation that the person you’ve been talking to all this time is not who you thought they were.

Fact checking and background research for a story of just 100 words might seem like overkill but I did want to make sure I had the story straight, if at all possible. And the things you learn!

True love
Recoiling in disgust when you realise you’ve drunk from an eccup* could be rendered obsolete by scientists who are confident that people will soon be able to replace lost teeth by growing new ones,’ says the TV health reporter. 

Eeeeww! Sounds like a mad scientist

‘…Tests have shown the technique to work in mice, where new teeth took weeks to grow. “We’re confident it will work in humans,” said Professor Deekay…’

experiment gone wrong. Even though I’m looking forward to growing old with you Duncan, I’d rather have you gummy than watch you grow new teeth,’ said Rachael to her husband who didn’t hear a word she said.

*The mug that nobody uses because Grandad once kept his false teeth in it.

Despite all the angst, grumbling and frustration I am ecstatic with the stories I wrote. I didn’t think I could come up with a new story every single day for 100 days. I didn’t think I had 100 stories in me.

There were lots of stories that could have been better and one I didn’t like at all (but oddly enough others did). I don’t think I’m very good at creative writing but I know I’m better than I was. Plus, I’ve got a lot of raw material to work with now.

“Taking a new step,uttering a new word,is what people fear most.” Fyodor Dostoevsky

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