First we must address the “mindset” or psychological condition of the potential contestant/author. This includes the conditions of the emotions and, as importantly, that of the spirit. 3-Day Novel Contest experience has shown the importance of proper balance and health in all these areas.
As one rather pompous contestant confessed after completing the contest: “I’ve been to Hell, and ended up writing about it.”
We are often asked where the contest is allowed to take place. Many are even under the impression that they must come to Vancouver, Canada to take part. This is not so. Any contestant may write their novel anywhere they wish. The best we can do is recommend, by past experience, what seems to work best.
This choice is common among contestants with children or shiploads of relatives sponging off them. The most obvious reason for this choice is privacy, all the amenities and solid locks on the doors to keep you in and them out.
A disadvantage, of course, is cost.
Another disadvantage, though more subtle, may be comfort. Many contestants have fallen victim to this novel-writing killer. The contestant arrives well-meaning enough, word-processor or typewriter in tow, a few clothes, food supplies, prodigious notes of research, whatever. Maybe he or she flops on the bed, checks the view, gazes with disinterest out at the pool. Then everything changes. These poor fools begin to think they’re on holiday. This is their first and last mistake.
Writing a novel in three days is never—and will never be—a holiday.
These are popular as an idea, very romantic—writer in the woods communing with nature, being inspired by the cry of an eagle—very Thoreauian or Hemingwayian, but the same pitfalls as a hotel room may ensue if the “cabin” is in fact a total amenities summer home. On the other hand, a true cabin in the woods with none of the amenities can wreak havoc with novel writing, even if you were taking years to write one.
It has been the experience of past contestants that a day to day fight for survival under primitive conditions just takes too much time off the writing schedule.
Here, the sentiment of the helpful friend letting you use their place for the weekend is wrought with good feelings. However, even here there are hidden dangers. If damage does occur—and no one is saying it will, of course—but if, then wouldn’t it be better if it occurs in an impersonal hotel room or, better still, a log cabin deep in the woods than in, and to, your close friend’s stuff?
You see, when writing a 3-Day Novel you can’t really be sure what is going to happen to you (see Attitude: Correct and Self-defeating). There are pressures that build as the deadline approaches, for example. A tendency to hurry, panic, forget the frozen samosas catching flame under the broiler in your friend’s kitchen. There can be tantrums, short periods of delirium where there will appear strange messages in lipstick on the bathroom mirror—and you know you didn’t write them. In this case you will have to decide which is more important: the friendship or the novel.
Now, this may be the last place you would consider for such an important adventure. What about phone calls, kids, dogs, cats, all the ugly chaos that makes up your daily life? How are you supposed to write? Some of these questions will be answered in the next section, but, funnily enough, most past contestants have found it easiest to do the contest right at home. Some reasons are: “I know were everything is.” or ” I have everything I need right here—computer, reference books, etc.” or “Familiar surroundings make it easier for me to focus.”
Of course, the final decision is yours.
This, although a relatively short section, is of vital importance. In fact, before taking any steps suggested, perhaps assemble all who are to be affected during the long weekend and simply ask: “Friend or Foe?” Foes, if adults, may be dismissed from the area—the house, apartment, or whatever. If children, they may be shipped away from the war zone feigning “their own good” as a reason.
Important: Don’t try to be fair.
It stands to reason if you’re married or in any relationship that the onus of responsibility for any help you will need will fall on that partner’s shoulders. This “help” is another positive reason for writing your novel at your own place. As for anyone else hanging around that weekend, “Remain quiet, please.” is the basis of all requests and/or commands you will make of them. As for that special partner, it will be easy enough for you once in the throes of writing frenzy to simply issue requests directly to them and allow him or her to designate as they see fit.
The most you will wish to do is stick your head out the door. This arrangement is a godsend for meals, snacks, maintaining supplies, taking messages and generally holding your life together while you, in fact, desert it for three days. The experiences of past contestants, especially mothers, speak very highly of this part of the contest. Although, at the beginning, the children and the, say, “male helper” may band together in a quite unbecoming gang of thugs who will demand that mom return to her duties, as the weekend progresses and they become weaker from missed and mismanaged meals and itch and scratch in their own filth in the outer room, they will slowly begin a new appreciation of the woman behind that locked door writing her brains out.
The most asked question of any 3-Day Novel Contest is: How do you know I wrote it in three days?
Well, we do. And we don’t.
In the early days of the contest this dilemma came up firsthand. Judges were suspicious when George Telford, a feisty senior from Nova Scotia, submitted his 1,000 page manuscript Dreadful Things. It was easily proven that no one could write a thousand pages in just three days and an angry Mr. Telford attempted to save some face by claiming to have misread the contest name, believing it to have said the 3-Year Novel Contest.
Experience has shown that an average 3-Day Novel is from 90 to 150 pages long when completed. Another aspect of the question that can be truly frightening to contemplate is that “maybe some people are honest.” This might seem like pretty heady stuff. God knows, it’s easy enough to spot the George Telfords of the world, and no one will punish you if you cheat. But, as your mother told you, you’re only cheating yourself. The experience of total immersion for three days in your own creating is, truly, not to be missed.
Another question often asked is: Is an outline necessary?
Most veterans of the contest will most assuredly recommend preparing an outline. Those without a plan, more often than not, find themselves floundering upon the turbulent, unforgiving seas of forced spontaneous creativity. An outline can be quite detailed and, as veterans of the contest will also tell you, the chances of sticking to the outline once things get rolling are about 1,000 to 1. But getting started is often a major hurdle and an outline can be invaluable as an initiator. That brings up another minor point.
The dilemma of where to place the emphasis is best summed up by Jeff Doran, 1983 winner with This Guest of Summer: “I found when writing a 3-Day Novel that, of plot and character development—well—you gotta throw one or the other out the window.”
1. The food served and eaten in one sitting.
2. A customary time or occasion of eating food.
This section is mainly geared for the single contestant (see: Preliminary Warnings…) who has no one but themselves to rely on throughout the three day ordeal. First off, meals are out. Note the phrases in the definition that you can discard immediately: food served; one sitting; customary time. That virtually leaves you with eating food.
Keep it simple, and fast:
Forget balance, this is not a “spa,” there are no “healing days.” This is a competition; a crucible; a hill of sand. Climb! Climb!
This section may be helpful or may not. These are not hard and fast rules but experience speaking. A general consensus is (working backward here) one should be finished their novel by 8 p.m. at the latest on the 3rd and final day. This leaves four hours for a re-read and editing. It also affords time to see if anything makes sense, in or out of the novel.
For most, the first day is the toughest. Veterans are almost unanimous in their belief that if one even gets out of the starting gate on the first day they’re doing well. There may be a lot of “window staring,” pacing, wishing to be anywhere else. It may be best to just keep in mind no one knows anything the first day.
By sunrise on the second day, one should be well on their way, the real world is far off, one is immersed wholly in the concept that is unfolding before them. This is also the day that the outline may be discarded, not consciously, but by some other malevolent unleashed force that, in effect, takes over the driving. It is generally agreed one should be halfway by 6 o’clock this evening.
This, of course, is the “do or die” day. There is no general consensus on how best to handle this one. Accounts vary, it’s the “make or break it” time and is best dealt with in the next section.
It is important to know these feelings will come. The deadline approaches. You’re well behind your intended schedule. Of course, you did screw up. Those “couple a’ drinks” last night with friends. And there didn’t seem to be any harm in taking a break to watch Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend, on the 9:00 movie (here you may achieve at least a sense of irony, an effective literary device you may want to incorporate into your present 3-Day opus). And then, there’s the walk in the park, the phone call to a lover, and the list goes on and on… the hill of sand proved too much. Well, despair is for artists and poets—you’re a writer.