I am a perfectionist.
I realize this might not be the most shocking admission for an editor to make. Still, while it serves me well at work, there are many occasions in life where perfectionism is less an asset than a useless exercise in self-obstruction.
The second-biggest challenge in writing a novel is forcing yourself to make the time and do it. But the very biggest is finishing it—determining the endpoint to all the fiddling with your work and daring to call it “good enough.” Judging from what I’ve heard from other writers, I am far from alone on this.
Fortunately for us all, I have discovered the antidote to these two massive challenges. Its name? The 3-Day Novel Contest.
Headquartered in Vancouver, BC, this mad dash charges you with producing the best novel you can in a mere 72 hours. There are no strict guidelines for length, though there is a suggested goal of 25,000 to 30,000 words. (That’s only 10,000 a day! Easy. Now excuse me while I start sobbing.)
Personally, I’ve spent a lot of happy Novembers chugging coffee and hammering the keyboard while participating in NaNoWriMo. That’s National Novel Writing Month—a similar challenge, except it involves writing 50,000 words in 30 days. Compared to the 3DNC, this once-daunting feat begins to seem a bit like child’s play. But, having conquered NaNoWriMo twice now, I decided it was time to take the next step and attempt this monster of a contest.
I can honestly say that what I wrote is, well … terrible. On the other hand, it’s a lot more than I ever expected to come up with in 72 hours, particularly when I didn’t allow myself any more preparation than a one-sentence premise.
What lessons did I learn along the way? So very many:
1) When you’ve got limited writing time as it is, it would probably be a better strategy to come to the task with an outline rather than jumping in blind. (Of course, any pre-writing is strictly forbidden. And the less preparation, the truer the 3DNC experience—or so they say.)
2) Writing for 72 hours straight makes you a little bit loopy. (There was a lot of pacing.)
3) It seems that my protagonists always end up being obnoxious. (I’m not sure what that’s about.)
4) Finally, and most importantly: if your plot seems irredeemable and irresolvable, find yourself the biggest coffee on the block. Once you’re suitably twitchy, the answer will come.
As questionable as my final product was, there’s no doubt that this was an enriching experience. But perhaps the most freeing aspect for a harsh self-critic (and aren’t we all?) is the fact that I wrote this awkward, lumbering, terrible thing, then sent it to someone to read.
This is another thing that sets 3DNC apart from NaNoWriMo. Though I’ve written heaps of pages over the past few Novembers, much of it stays locked up for my eyes only.
In the 3DNC, there’s technically the prize of publication on the line for one lucky entrant, though I doubt many people write with that in mind. It’s more about the experience of forcing yourself to achieve this unimaginable feat. But the fact that all entries need to be judged means that you need to submit your three-day novel, however awful, to be read by the judges at the end. It’s the only way to properly complete the contest.
Dashing off some poorly plotted escapade in three days and then letting some critical strangers read it—it’s the most audacious thing this perfectionist has ever done. And, though everyone who’s asked me whether I might have a chance of winning has been met with gasps of laughter, I think the experience has given me just a little more bravery in terms of letting my writing go.
- Total entrants in 2012: 485
- Percent of entrants who actually submitted novels: 71%
- Average word count of finished novels: 24,212
- My final word count: 21,078
The 3-Day Novel Contest takes place every Labour Day weekend for 72 hours of seclusion and tearing one’s hair out. Thinking of trying it out next year? Visit their website to learn more!