The writing team at work over a variety of beverages, June 2012

The writing team at work over a variety of beverages, June 2012

Krissy Kneen adds to the wall of shared ideas, June 2012

Krissy Kneen adds to the wall of shared ideas, June 2012

Bronwen Blaney with the very first copy of  W  illow Pattern , fresh from the Espresso Book Machine in Brooklyn, June 2012

Bronwen Blaney with the very first copy of Willow Pattern, fresh from the Espresso Book Machine in Brooklyn, June 2012

The 24-Hour Book

On Monday, 11th June 2012 at around 11:00am, nine writers, ten editors, about a dozen support staff, one designer, a coffee machine, and a bucketload of Tim Tams came together with the purpose of creating a book. We were to begin working at midday. Like all books, ours had a publishing deadline. Unlike a lot of books, ours was precisely twenty-four hours after we began. 

This was the 24-Hour Book.

Over the next twelve hours, their stories were written live, with work in progress posted online to allow readers to watch the story unfold and to submit ideas, suggestions and contributions across media. One by one, the stories were completed and the clock neared midnight. At this point, a team of bleary-eyed editors took the text from manuscript to book.

Each chapter has a single writer and editor. Though a few basic rules were established to ensure the book has a cohesive quality to it, each writer was free to tell whatever kind of story they liked. The result was not a 24-Hour novel, but more than a loose collection of short stories.

Why a 24-Hour Book?

There were a couple of 24-Hour Books prior to this one—most notably in 2009 and another in 2012—both organised from the UK and involving if:book UK. Each project is different in its focus and end product, but the common thread between them is the use of the timeframe to demonstrate the capabilities and explore the possibilities of working in a digital environment. Each iteration of the idea produces something unique to its process, something that couldn’t be reproduced in a more traditional environment.

Our pithy reasons for doing this were “because we can” and “because it’ll be fun”. As slight as that sounds, in most cases that was enough convince some of Australia’s best writers to get involved.

What we hoped to achieve is an exploration of how a digital process informs and influences collaborative writing and editing in a combination of face-to-face and screen-to-screen. There were three collaborations taking place: author to author, author to editor, and book to audience. the authors either wrote directly to the web or cut-and-pasted regularly, allowing the audience to see the work unfold on screen and interact with it via comments. Comments and suggestions were filtered back to the authors, potentially influencing the direction of the story as it was being created.

Print and Digital

At midday on 12 June, 2012, the book Willow Pattern was made available as a free digital download from the if:book web site. The free edition was available for another twenty-four hours before making its way into the standard retail environment.

A few minutes before midday on the same day, the first print edition of Willow Pattern rolled out of an Espresso Book Machine at the Brooklyn Public Library in New York City. To the best of our knowledge, this project was the first to produce a printed copy of the book within the twenty-four hours.

Even today, the future of the book is often reduced to the false (but easy) dichotomy of 'print vs digital'. The print edition of the 24-Hour Book is a reminder that physical media has a place in a digital world and that some of the most interesting work can emerge from the interaction between the digital and the physical. Willow Pattern is a book born from a combination of face-to-face collaboration and digital technology.

Collaboration and data is really at the centre of this project (the timeframe was really just a convenient way to get both).

Digital and online writing tools are at heart collaborative tools. Every blogging platform is built to handle multiple authors and editors (our tech for the project is based on a blogging tool). Although collaborative writing often lies at the heart of other media like film, it’s relatively underexplored in narrative fiction. I suspect writers are far more gregarious than popular perception would have you believe. Writers love working together and bouncing ideas off each other and this is the kind of atmosphere we hope to generate.

In this case, the digital environment is merely a system to help us navigate a more traditional idea of collaboration: writers physically together and discussing their stories. Where digital really comes into its own is the ability for collaboration to go much, much wider. Opening the text up as it unfolds allows us to seek feedback on the fly. Sure, we’ll have no filter and no idea whether such feedback will be constructive or even welcome, but hey that’s the web for you. Digital writing is expected to be flexible: bloggers respond to their readers, readers expect to be heard and acknowledged. Why should we be any different just because we’re writing in a different form?