As of September 6, 2010, I can now call myself a writer, as opposed to the term amateur, which I used to describe my writing attempts. I have always written, mostly short personal poetry that never saw the light of day. Three years ago I had the idea for a novel about friendships, spanning over several years. It arrived in the midst of a busy time, as with most ideas I have; it struck right at the time I moved 4500km across the country. In the chaos of moving, finding a place to live, looking for a new job, and establishing myself in Vancouver full time and pursue my architectural profession, I had no time to start my manuscript. Although the ideas developed and solidified in terms of character development and eventually a full outline, I couldn’t devote the time to writing consistently.
I learned about the 3 Day Novel Contest completely by accident. One day when checking my twitter account I noticed a re-tweet advertising the contest. Curious, I scoped out their twitter page, and then their home page. The concept intrigued me: write approximately 30,000 words in three days, creating a manuscript between 90-150 pages, and have a witness sign a statement indicating that I wrote it over Canada’s Labour Day weekend. I read the entire website and many previous participants wrote about the experience. Some said it was the best worst experience of their lives, and others said they simply wanted to finally put their ideas down on paper. The idea stuck to my brain like a cobweb. I enjoy deadlines as a way to frame my time and the people closest to me thought it would be a good idea if I participated. I waited until the Wednesday before the contest to send in my registration, ensuring I didn’t have to work any overtime that weekend.
Even though the rules of the contest stipulate that you can start as of 12:01 the Saturday of the long weekend, I acknowledged my need for a routine sleep pattern and waited until 8:30 am that morning to begin. I was so excited at the idea of sitting down for three days straight to creatively write that it was a little difficult to fall asleep, and subsequently thought of the first line right at midnight. My design school back ground gave me a psychological advantage: every term had several deadlines that ended up designed and completed over the course only a few days. Friday night I spent cleaning my apartment to get rid of distractions and preparing healthy snack foods (fresh salsa and veggies with dips).
My friend in Ontario decided to try this contest as well and we tried to figure out how to have witnesses to our writing. Since we both lived solo, and so far apart from each other, we decided to try Google Documents sharing feature with friends who lived in the same city. They could check out our writing periodically during the process, and verify that we did write our stories over the weekend without committing their weekends too. As a matter of support, we shared our novels with each other as well. Since she lived in Ontario, I could see her start on the novel right at midnight her time, though only 9pm my time. It inspired me and got me excited to write my own story.
Day 1 turned into the typical procrastination day. I allowed some television on in the background which delayed my story, but because I spent three years creating a highly developed outline, I still managed to write 10,000 words. I used Day 1 to gauge my progress, and though I reached one third of my word count, it felt less than one quarter of the way through the story. I stopped writing when my head hurt and my eyes glazed over at around 10pm that night. Periodically I checked in on my friend to see her progress in google documents, and we encouraged each other as we went.
I gave myself a goal for Day 2 that I would write through to a particular scene in the story, because I knew that the final few scenes would be both difficult for me to write and integral to the entire plot. Because I gave myself a goal to hit I found anything remotely out of place distracting. My apartment windows were open, so any car alarms and people partying made me want to yell out the window to stop, but I instead I breathed deeply, and got back to work. When I got finished through a long scene or chapter, and didn’t know what to do next, I got up for a break, made a snack, or ate some leftover food. I didn’t get to my scene goal, but I typed 11000 words.
Day 3 was intense. I cried as I wrote several scenes, made even worse by recent personal tragedies similar to the ones I created for my characters three years earlier. Tears streamed down as I wrote out the difficult scenes and somehow, I managed to finish. At one point that day my reader sent me a message to make sure I went back through my story and check out the names, because I had the wrong characters get married. Fortunately, I finished my work at 34,000 words around 6pm, which gave me ample time to go back through and correct some of those ridiculous mistakes. Once I finished however, my creative adrenaline fled and fatigue set in. I continued editing until 11pm, when I finally had enough and sleep claimed me.
I slept poorly the night after the 3 Day Contest. I dreamed about my characters, and the creative juices kept waking me up restlessly. After a long day on my feet on site, I managed only to make dinner and print off my novel before finally passing out. The next day, I woke up seized with a super-panic that my novel didn’t do my story justice, and I didn’t want anyone to read it, including my friends and family. As the course of the day wore on, my panic relaxed and I decided to still send in my manuscript. My witness stopped by to sign the statement that she read and witnessed my writing, and laughed at the nature of Google Documents. When only in view mode, she watched my editing as I went, and had no control when I scrolled through the document to edit earlier text.
Despite the post-completion panic I really enjoyed participating in the 3 Day Novel Contest. I remind myself that I wrote 34,000 words in one weekend, and while that’s more novella than novel, I sent it in. While I don’t think its the best writing I’ve ever done, I have no regrets about doing it. I finally finished a completed story, and that comes with a strong sense of satisfaction. Come January, when the winners are announced, I may come back to it, and take the time to edit it into the novel I envisioned three years ago. I realized that by taking three days to write a story that was close to my heart for three years, the result would never live up to my expectations. I suspect that was part of my panic. I also realized that grief played part of it too. Characters I held on to for the last three years no longer needed to be a part of my daily life, and I grieved their loss as I would any close friend. I cried almost as much letting go of them as I did writing about their tragedies.
To anyone thinking about doing the contest in the future, I can make a few suggestions. First, a really strong outline helps to get the words out. While you may not know exactly what happens next, you know where you’re trying to get to. However, I don’t recommend using only three days to write a story you’ve carried with you for so long; it makes letting go really difficult. I read on a chat board that a woman posted all her characters in a chart on the wall. Since I got my names confused, I think that will be a good technique for next time. Read all you can on the website and chat room, it really helps. Finally, never underestimate how much sleep can do for you. Creativity is exhausting, and you need more sleep than you normally get, especially if writing isn’t your normal job.
I take away two things from participating in the Contest. First, I look forward to editing my story after taking some time and giving it some distance to make it less personal. Second, I don’t know where I’ll be next year, but I do believe I’ll do the Contest again. The creative adrenaline coursing through me for three days is addictive, even if unsustainable beyond that. I will write again, especially now that I how exciting the process can be.
This post was originally posted at The Glass Coin. As the website has since folded, I have repurposed it in my own site.