The 3-Day Novel Contest

(A slightly different version of this piece was published in the Waterloo Region Record in September 2006.)

OK. I admit it. I did it for the “I survived!” sticker. And the right to wear the t-shirt that reads “I survived the International 3-Day Novel Contest.”

Over the Labour Day Weekend, I participated in a contest in which you attempt to write a novel in three days. The rules are simple: start at midnight on Friday and finish at midnight on Monday.
I felt prepared. I’d done the notebook shopping and the pencil shopping and picked out a comfortable outfit to wear while writing. I had a sketchy outline and names for some of the characters. I knew how I wanted it to begin and I had an ending in mind.
How hard could this be?
Friday night I did some late-night grocery shopping, picking up snacks to fuel my creativity - chips, instant soup and fig newtons. I went to Tim Hortons and got a big thermos of coffee.
I was ready to go.
I drank coffee and wrote. The words were flowing. In fact, they were spilling out of my pencil almost faster than I could commit them to the page.
I had nailed the setting. I had introduced some of the characters. The contest didn’t have a page limit, which was turning out to be a good thing. This is great stuff I thought, as I feverishly scrawled away. I was on a roll.
Too bad the judges for the Three-Day Novel contest can’t hand out the Giller Award. Or the Governor General’s Literary Awards. Or the Orange Prize. Or choose the books for Canada Reads.
On Saturday morning, I hit some glitches. I realized I’d introduced the town but hadn’t placed it geographically. I could see it perfectly in my head but it wasn’t coming to life on the page. There were lots of characters, lots and lots of characters, but they weren’t distinguishable in any way from each other and they were, for the most part, silent. I don’t like writing dialogue, so I’d been avoiding it.
But I didn’t panic; I would fix these little problems in my editing phase. The key was just to keep on going, right? So I did. But any flow I might have imagined was receding. By dinner the story lurched from scene to scene like a person learning to drive a standard.
Sunday morning was even worse. I figured it must be just a low caffeine level. I sent my husband to Tim Hortons for coffee. Later, I went to Tim Hortons. Too bad neither of our kids could drive.
If I tried to take a break somebody would inquire, “Shouldn’t you be working on your novel?”
I was starting to get cranky.
I re-read my masterpiece. There were pages and pages and pages about the orange cat named Earl and a big-breasted woman named Jane. Freudians would have a field day with this stuff. “Do you think it is possible?” they would ask, “to cure this woman of her fixations about cats and large bosoms?”
Sunday afternoon around 2 o’clock, I waved my husband and daughter off to their annual back-to-school tea. A few minutes later I asked my son, “Would you think any less of me if I didn’t finish?”
He said. “No, of course not, Mom,” but was he telling me the truth?
By this time, I didn’t care. I wrote my ending and shut the notebook. I changed out of my special writing clothes.
When my husband and daughter got home, I told them I had given up. They, too, assured me it would be impossible for them to think any less of me.
I typed up my story. It wasn’t as massive as I thought it was mid flow. It was more of a novella than War and Peace. Good thing the contest had no minimum page requirement.
I submitted it anyway. I made a list of some of the things I'd learned during the contest:
1. I need to work from a very detailed outline.
2. Drinking copious amounts of coffee doesn’t help.
3. Family members asking, “Shouldn’t you be working on your novel?” doesn’t help.
4. Wearing a specifically chosen writing outfit, no matter how comfortable, doesn’t help.
But despite all of that, can you guess what I’m doing next Labour Day Weekend? It will be something completely different. I’ve already got a character in mind – a large-breasted black and white cat. I think I’ll name her Pearl.