Winning Novelist Interviews: Jason Rapczynski of The Videographer

In the month leading up to the 2014 3-Day Novel Contest, we’ll be interviewing previous winners, who will share their experiences and tactics for tackling the contest.

Today’s interview is with Jason Rapczynski of The Videographer.

1. Which was the moment you decided to sign up for the contest? Why?

Well, I spent the first half of that year – this was in 2008 – rewriting and submitting the first novel I’d written in college. I’d called it Bestseller back then. I was very optimistic. It had made it onto the desks of a few publishers the first time around, so I devoted a lot of time to revising it. I wrote a first-person draft, a third-person draft. I even did one in the second person. Well, it got rejected. And I mean everywhere – about 300 times in the span of six months (okay, many were formulaic responses to a query letter/synopsis, but still…). Anyhow, I was about to move onto another project when one of my former college professors suggested that I look into some contests. I Googled some combination of words that brought the 3-Day Novel Contest to the top of the search results. This was a few weeks, maybe a month, before the contest. I’d just spent so much time rewriting and revising that it seemed like a good idea to force myself into something new.

2. What prep work, (if any,) did you compile before the contest?

The best prep work I did before the contest was the work I just mentioned. I’d been at the computer – writing, rewriting – 12, 14, sometimes 16 hours a day, so I’d built up some stamina. Of course, at the time, I had no idea this would help me down the road. I just put myself into the habit of working obsessively, which is not necessarily a good thing (though in this case it definitely helped). Otherwise, I remember driving to the airport a few days before the contest because I knew I was going to write a scene that took place there. But the main thing was I had the idea – the premise and basic plot points – going in. Obviously, that’s as important as anything. The story of The Videographer came to me at the right time. A lot of it came from the “breaks” I had been taking from my work. A lot of times I simply didn’t want to get up from my desk, so I started watching all sorts of YouTube videos on the computer. They were short clips. Some were quite disturbing, disgusting, asinine, raunchy, ridiculous. My idea for the videographer’s job really came out of that.

3. Describe the darkest crevasse you fell into during the writing period.

I don’t know that I can point to a particular moment of darkness or despair I experienced while writing the book. However, I can say that the last 12 hours were by far the worst in terms of pressure. Probably because, until that point, I never truly believed I would actually make it. In any event, I compare the whole experience to cramming for an exam. When you try to learn a semester’s worth of material over the weekend before the final, well, you might ace the test – but how much of that knowledge can you possibly retain? I offer this analogy by way of explaining why (for me, at least) that long weekend is a blur. Of course, a lot of past weekends are a blur for me – albeit for different reasons…

4. What pulled you out of it?

Like I said, I didn’t have that “dark crevasse” moment (at least, not that I recall), but if I had… I think sleep would be the answer. Even just a short nap to sort of reset. If you’ve hit a wall or your pace has slowed considerably – and you feel like you could fall asleep – set your alarm and try to squeeze in a REM cycle.

5. What is the most valuable thing you took away from the three days?

When I first started writing fiction, I would finish a first draft and immediately move on to something else – the next story, the next novel, my next idea. But later, after I’d experienced enough rejection, I went to the other extreme. I revised so much that I was practically unable to produce anything new. I couldn’t write more than a page without revising it over and over again (until it was – in my mind – perfect). I’d gone from writing without a filter – just spewing out words, page after page – to obsessing over every line and questioning every word. The 3-Day Novel Contest – trying to write a book in just three days – really snapped me out of that.

6. What are you up to now? Was the 3-Day Novel Contest a detour on your already thriving passion for writing, or did it direct you into the new love of being a novelist?

At the beginning of 2008, the year I turned thirty, I gave myself one more year to try to “make it” as a writer. As I said before, I spent 12 to 16 hours each day rewriting, revising and submitting my work. I spent the first half of the year trying to place that first novel I wrote back in college. Then – after the contest – I spent the rest of the year (all of the fall) doing the same with a second novel. Toward the end of the year, I received a letter from this big literary agency in New York describing a meeting they’d held to discuss that book specifically. It was from one of their junior agents and he basically said they really liked the novel but the higher-ups, who had the final say, were not convinced they could sell it. So, that was pretty much it from me. I mean, on the one hand it was nice to hear that some agents there had been in favor of my work, but at the same time, what Beckett said about failing better, well, I think in a sense that can actually hurt more. Anyhow, New Year’s came and went and I was done. My self-imposed deadline had expired. I was ready to move on to whatever came next. I was broke and had moved back in with my parents. My cell phone – one of those old flip phones – was practically in two pieces. The top and bottom were held together by a single wire and the screen would not light up, so I couldn’t even use it for an outgoing call. But I for some reason I kept it charged, plugged into the wall, and a couple of days later – on January 3rd – that phone rang. It was the Melissa Edwards, who was the Managing Editor of the 3-Day Novel Contest at the time. In other words, if I hadn’t signed up for the contest six years ago, there’s a pretty good chance I would not be writing today.

7. Last – and most important! – any advice for writers looking to sign-up?

Yes: Don’t think “90 or 100 or 100-plus pages in three days!” That’s just overwhelming. Try thinking “two pages an hour.” Even if you don’t keep up that pace throughout, you’ll be able to finish. Also, if you don’t have someone willing to bring you food in the middle of the night, it helps if you prepare your meals (and coffee!) in advance.

Want to read more of Jason’s work? Check out his newest book, MFA: The Novel.