More than Three Decades of 3-Day Novel Writing

It is no surprise that an idea as crazy as writing a novel in three days would arise from a province renowned more for its pot grow-ops, land-locked sea serpents and whacked-out politics. But culture building must be done, and so it was.

In 1977 a handful of restless Vancouver writers accepted the challenge to write a novel over the Labour Day long weekend. No one finished and no one was eager to expose their hasty efforts to the scrutiny of others. Yet, though there had been no offspring, a beast was born, and soon it arose again, demanding recognition and celebration of its existence.

In true pioneering spirit, the call went out, the gauntlet went down, and the 3-Day Novel Contest was on its way to becoming the cheeky and uncompromising rebel of literary forms that it is today. From its modest beginnings as a barroom challenge, it grew to attract the interest and support of neophyte and seasoned writers alike, from Canada, the U.S. and beyond. Now, more than three decades later, it has become a unique contribution to world literary history and a put-your-keyboard-where-your-mouth-is rite of passage for hundreds of writers each year.

The contest has inspired the creation of thousands of novels, twenty-five of which have been published by the contest administrators. From the inaugural winner, Dr. Tin by Tom Walmsley, to the 2015-winning entry, Chalk by Doug Diaczuk, the winners of this notorious literary marathon have impressed both adjudicators and reviewers with their level of craft and accomplishment. Many other entered novels have been redeveloped by their authors to be later picked up other publishing houses.

Over its history the contest has found a home with a series of small publishers, including Arsenal Pulp Press, Anvil Press and Blue Lake Books. In 2004 a couple of Vancouver small publishers agreed to volunteer their time and effort to keeping the contest going as an independent organization. In 2005 Arsenal Pulp Press signed on to distribute the winning novels published by the 3-Day Novel Contest (under the 3-Day Books imprint). In 2006 and 2009, the stakes of the contest got even higher for a select few during two seasons of BookTelevision‘s 3-Day Novel Contest reality series (watch a clip here), in which a dozen of the contest’s entrants wrote their novels under the public eye. Today the contest is managed by volunteers affiliated with Geist magazine, and the winning novels are published by Anvil Press.

Throughout its history, the 3-Day Novel Contest has been called a “fad,” an “idle threat,” a “great way to overcome writer’s block” and “a trial by deadline.” Unconcerned, it continues to fly in the face of the notion that novels take eight years of angst to produce.