Have you done the unthinkable and registered for the 3-Day Novel Contest this weekend? If so, I commend your bravery but I also question your sanity. It definitely takes an idealistic, motivated, and just a little unbalanced type of person to attempt to write a novel in three days. But it can be done. Trust me, I know.
For anyone out there who is participating in the 39th annual 3-Day Novel Contest, I would like to share with you some tips and tricks for how to survive the weekend. Be warned though, even if you do survive, you might still do some permanent damage.
The following tips are based on my own experiences participating in the 3-Day Novel Contest last year. There is another useful survival guide on the 3-Day Novel Contest website at www.3daynovel.com.
Go in with an idea and nothing more: While the contest does permit the use of an outline, trying to write a novel in three days that is already carefully plotted not only takes away from the creative outburst that you are about to experience, but it might also rob you of the motivation to actually do the writing. If your story is laid out in detail from start to finish, there will be no unexpected turns, no spontaneous discoveries along the way, and these will really help keep you going. If you already know what is going to happen in chapter nine, it will be much more difficult to get through chapters one through eight first. You should go in with an idea in your head of what you want your story to be, the characters you want to write about, and situations in which you want to place them, but nothing more. This will allow your story to take on a life of its own and it will make the weekend that much more exciting as you watch your story unfold before your eyes.
Divide up the weekend into three days: Don’t go in thinking you have three days to complete your novel. Rather, go in with a word count goal for each day. This will divide up the weekend into three separate days and will make the task seem a little less daunting and the weekend feel more manageable. You may not reach your intended goal each day, but as long as you get close enough to it, you can either make it up the next day, or simply take the loss. Be warned, if you miss your goal substantially on one day; do not expect to make it up the next. That day already has it’s own goal to be met.
Eat, sleep, and pace the room: Being limited to only 72 hours to write a novel doesn’t sound like a lot of time. And it’s not. You might be thinking that you need to squeeze productivity out every last minute in those 72 hours, but you don’t, and you can’t. You need to sleep, you need to eat, and you even need to take a break or two. There is no sense trying to continue when your mind and body is saying ‘enough.’ Not only will you not be able to work then, but you won’t be able to get anything done the next day either. If you have a word count goal for each day, stop when you reach that goal. If you haven’t reached it, but can’t go on, cut your losses and get some rest. The same goes for eating. Eat at the times you normally would. You will need the energy. And don’t be afraid to take a break every now and again. Even if that break consists of you pacing the room and muttering to yourself about what will come next in your story. Just do anything to take yourself away from the screen or keyboard and move around a little.
Plot or character, you have to pick one: As the 3-Day Novel Contest website says, you can either write a plot-driven story or a character-driven story, because you won’t have time to do both. It’s best if you have one central character that will be the focus of your story. But you have to choose how much you develop that character or how substantial the plot will be that surrounds them. I believe that a character-driven story is probably the best way to go, as it allows you to really dive into a character’s mind and almost live in their shoes. Allow the action to happen around them, rather than trying to force them into a story that they might not fit into.
Don’t stop: Once you start, you can’t stop. If you don’t like a scene and want to go back and change it, forget it, keep going. Do you not like what that character said a few pages back? Too bad, keep going. Is there a scene that you really like and want to expand on? That’s great, but you can’t, so keep going. If you stop to fix things, you won’t start up again.
Stop caring: If you are going into the contest expecting to write an unblemished masterpiece and cringe at the thought of someone reading anything less, you might as well just quit now. You are going to be writing frantically, the words will be bursting out of your brain and onto the screen, and what you produce might shock you. If you care what other people will think of your work, or if you stop to think of whether or not your own work is good enough, you won’t get through the weekend. Write your story as though no one but you will ever read it.
Finally, have fun! You won’t have any fun.
I hope these tips will help you survive the 3-Day Novel Contest. It will be one of the most difficult, grueling, emotionally and mentally draining weekends of your life. But at the end of those 72 hours you can say that you completed the 3-Day Novel Contest, that you were brave enough, crazy enough to write a book in only three days. Not many people can say that and not many people know just what an amazing feeling that can be. Good luck, everyone!
Read about my own personal journey participating in the 3-Day Novel Contest, as well as an excerpt from my 3-Day Novel, Chalk, in the September issue of the Northwestern Ontario Writer’s Workshop Newsletter.