In the months leading up to the 2015 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 Mark Sedore of Snowmen.
1. Which was the moment you decided to sign up for the contest? Why?
I had actually heard about the contest online the year before I entered. It seemed like something I’d really like to do but, because of long-weekend plans, I wouldn’t be able to take part, so I bookmarked the website and then would stumble upon it occasionally throughout the year. As Labour Day drew closer again, I realized the timing would work, so I entered. The year I won was actually my third time entering. The first year I was shortlisted, the second year I came in 2nd place, and then I won in the third year. I just kept at it. So, I would suggest that people enter as soon as they can, because it’s definitely the kind of thing you can improve on year after year.
2. What prep work, (if any,) did you compile before the contest?
I had always been reticent to share my story ideas with people before writing them, but the year that I won I had shared it with anyone who would listen — usually across a table at a pub. I found this to be really helpful. People pointed out problems with my plot and then we’d brainstorm solutions to these problems together. Given that you don’t have a lot of time in the 72-hour period to sit in a corner and work out every single problem, solving them in advance is a huge time saver. Even if you’re not one to write down an outline beforehand, it’s good to work out in your head where it’s going to go.
Other than that I also read some books on Arctic survival, and on the phenomenon of perfect pitch. Background knowledge is always helpful for informing your plot and helps you to keep writing even when you can’t think of anything plot or character related. I did not do any background reading on Asperger’s Syndrome, and that turned out to be a detriment, because it played a huge role in my story and I had to spend some time on Saturday and Sunday researching it.
3. Describe the darkest crevasse you fell into during the writing period.
It’s funny, but I generally am a quick writer. I had most of the story plotted out and by my third year of entering the contest, I thought I knew what to expect during the first night. I’m one of those people who start right at the stroke of midnight on Day One, rather than waking up early on Saturday to get at it. So, midnight hit and I quickly poured out the first chapter and it was probably still before 2 a.m. I was prepared to stay up until much later than that, but when it came to the second chapter… I was just stuck. Despite my preparation on the story arc in general I had no idea what was supposed to happen in the second chapter. It was frustrating and surprising. I didn’t know what to do. I was writing in a house with three other people also doing the contest that year, but they were all asleep by then, so I couldn’t consult. It wasn’t writer’s block per se — I mean, I could easily have kept writing, but I needed to write something that would get me to chapter three and beyond. It couldn’t just be anything.
4. What pulled you out of it?
I did what I would advise any author to do in such a situation: I slept on it. In the morning the answer came to me directly through the window of the room I was sleeping in— that’s not even a cute metaphor; there was a small rock garden Inukshuk just outside my window that I never would have noticed at night, and the image of it set up chapter two perfectly.
5. What is the most valuable thing you took away from the three days?
The ability to shut off my brain and just write.
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?
My next major step in fiction writing is still forthcoming, but I’m very active at it. I’m working full-time and concurrently pursuing a PhD, so I certainly don’t feel like I’ve been slacking; it’s just sometimes hard to find an hour or two to dedicate strictly to writing. That’s another reason I’d recommend the 3-Day; you just tell your friends and family that you’ll be unavailable and then allow yourself 72-hours to do nothing but unapologetically write.
7. Last – and most important! – any advice for writers looking to sign-up?
A lot of new entrants to the contest want to know what the word limit is or should be. I think a reasonable goal for three days is 40,000 words. My second entry (when I came in second place) was somewhere over the 53,000 word mark. I think my winning entry was just shy of 47,000. But, like I said, I write quickly and it’s something I gradually got better at doing — shutting your brain off is crucial to that. If possible, turn off your monitor, or blindfold yourself so that you don’t see the words that you’re typing: really, you’re just thinking out the story with your fingers.
I’ve actually given a few talks on this subject and have some core pieces of advice, some of which were covered above that I’ll otherwise summarize briefly below:
– Plot beforehand — you don’t have much time to plot on the weekend.
– Start at midnight on the day of, which will give you one extra sleep for your unconscious mind to work stuff out.
– If you can, make the main character based on yourself and write in first-person. This will save time in decision-making when you come to roadblocks. Instead of asking what your character would do in a situation, you can just ask yourself.
– Set very strict goals at the outset — mine were in the form of so many chapters at so many words apiece, (I think I aimed at 15-16,000 words per day, and ended up well over that during the first 48 hours.)
– Give yourself about six or eight hours on the final day to read over the entire thing. I think a lot of entrants forget this part, but if you’re in it to win it, you don’t want to submit your very first draft.