Why I do the 3 Day Novel Contest…

People do the 3day for a lot of reasons.

The first time I did it (2008), it was on a dare.

My first novel, Mostly Happy, had just come out, published by Thistledown Press. It took me 6 years to complete. I completed the 6 week Mostly Happy Couch Surfing Tour (you can follow the link to read about it in Cahoots Magazine).
I was tired out, so I rested for a few months and then… got back at it.
I was trying to start work again… and… flailing.

I had some new characters.
I had some dialogue.
And I had a kick ass ACT BREAK.
I was sure I was working on a new play.
But it just…wouldn’t … gel.

I so wanted to write a play.
I missed my theatre folk.
I wanted to work alone for a while and then fold myself into the loving embrace of the amazing people at the Saskatchewan Playwright’s Centre.
But I just couldn’t seem to find my stride.

wpid-img_1062-2012-08-23-10-33.jpgIt was summer time.
My Love and I were at “The Camp.”
He saw a call for the 3 Day Novel Contest and he DARED me to do it. “Take the characters and write it out, as a novel.” he said. “You’ll get the story and you can always turn it back into a play.”

I took the bait.

That year I crafted a version of SANCTUARY and it took Honourable Mention in the contest.
It was a wild ride.
I wrote my first ever outline and found myself careening from plot point to plot point and following my characters wherever they led.
When Dunny, the boy I saw as the main character, chose to only speak in rhymes… I grinned.
When Izzy, the girl who sort of took over the story, stole a car and headed across the desert… I hooted and raced after her.

On the Monday night, I blinked and hit PRINT.
Then I opened the wine and my Love and I celebrated a new world being born.
These characters had a story. I’d only GLIMPSED it, but I had a taste and I knew it wasn’t a play this time. It was another novel.

Life got in the way of continuing work on the skeleton I’d found, and Sanctuary languished… until this year.
I am currently hip deep in a re-visioning of the world of Izzy and Dun. I can’t talk about it yet, as it is very much in FLUX right now and, truth be told, I’m entirely superstitious about talking about the work before the first draft is even complete.

This is more than a rewrite. It is a whole new bag.

I would go so far as to say that the natural, proper, 	
fitting shape of the novel might be that of a sack, a bag. 
A book holds words.  Words hold things.  They bear meanings. 
A novel is a medicine bundle, holding things in a particular,
powerful relation to one another and to us.
-Ursula K Le Guin (Dancing at the Edge of the World, 1989)

And it all started with a dare to do the 3day.
I had a blast that weekend, and I was hooked.

I did the contest in 2009 in the exhausting and exhilarating company of a vigilante named MAC who is still kicking around in my back brain plotting murders whenever she catches a news story about a child being hurt. Some days I dream that Mac and the gang are a series that will bring in heaps of dough. I’m hilARIOUS, right?

In 2011, I hung out with a trio, on an island in a river in Northern Ontario… a little romance, a little family trauma drama, and some eagles.
They are resting now, but sure to be revisited.

In 2010 I couldn’t play. I had a fabulous gig with the Saskatchewan Writers Guild and we were gearing up for Word On the Street.

I’m back this year with a maddening character named Galinda, GAL for short. No relation to the Wicked one.

She is driving me a bit mad.
Here’s part of an exchange we recently had in my “morning scribble book.”

ME: Can’t you you give me a hint? I need a -- story. 	
I need a plan of some kind. A few ... signposts.
C’mon. I need... something. GAL: Piss off.
ME: Oh, that’s just great. Thanks. Very helpful.
She turns her great bulk or skinny self... is she even a SHE? Shapeshifting stubborn demon spawn....
grumble grumble grumble....

GAL: (grins) You don’t trust me.
ME: I hardly know you.
GAL: Whadda ya think... I’m gonna leave you spinning
on the porch floor with your legs kicking,
gasping for breath, halfway through the weekend?
ME: Maybe.
GAL: Like a bug.
ME: Maybe.
GAL: Like a dying bug.
GAL: Weeping like a great babee. Blubbering and
covered in snot and...
ME: I paid 50 bucks. I need to have a STORY!
GAL: (with a chuckle that shakes the house) Sweety, you have
ME. You take my hand. We gonna be just fine.
And she is gone. Again.

I am entirely f***ked.

It’s funny I feel this way.
Funny because this actually how writing USUALLY works for me.

My people talk to me, and I have learned to trust them. I know that the best work comes this way – for me.
For six years, a girl named BEAN repeatedly kicked me out of my bed and sent me back to the page to “Fix her story.” Anytime I let myself or my own issues leak onto the page, she called me on it. Granted, she gave me a little bit of leeway. She would wait and watch and listen… to see if this was my bumbling way to find HER truth, but when it became clear to her that I had veered off track, she had no compunction whatsoever about kicking me the hell out of bed and letting me know that it WOULD NOT STAND.
I had to start again. And again. And again.
Til I got it right.
For her.

See, outside of the 3day – that’s how I work. I listen to my characters. They talk and talk and TALK. They take me places, show me stuff. I write it all down in my scribble book and then, together we weed through it all to find the real STORY. The THING that they are trying to say.

I figure I just don’t have time for that during the 3day. So I’ve tried to learn to PLOT stories. To create some sort of OUTLINE or even just a chronological list of events that I can cling to as we set out.

I found some grand advice and “worksheets” out here on the Web:
There’s a whole Writers Toolbox over at Scriptorium
A method to “Outline Your Novel in Thirty Minutes” by Alicia Rasley
And a heap load of writing advice generously shared by Jim Butcher (author of the well beloved Dresden Files)

I also reread Steven King’s On Writing.
King is not a big fan of the outlining thing.
I like that.
He may have saved my life.

Because – while I DO believe that worksheets and outlining and thinking about story and breaking things down and looking intently at how successful stories are crafted can help us all grow as writers… I also know that the real JUICE in my work happens when I let all of that stuff go and let the character lead me. When I get my organizing, critical editor self out of the way and enter the flow.

Writing is a craft. It is hard work. We build our worlds word by word by word.
And… the magic happens when the characters take over.

We need to do BOTH things.

We need to trance out and let it flow AND we need to craft the tale.

My biggest fear with the three day is… there is not enough TIME for both. (she giggles hysterically)
I begin to panic and I want… a PLAN.

I continue to cajole Gal:

ME: A first line? A last line? 	
Some kind of trajectory to follow?
C’mon, throw me a bone.

GAL: In the beginning...

ME: What?

GAL: “In the beginning...” There’s a first line for you.
(Her grin could split the world)

This is gonna be a riot.

I started this post with the idea that I would figure out just WHY I do this 3 day mad thing.

I do it …. To let out a draft of a story that has been building in my back brain and needs some AIR
I do it …. Because it is fun
I do it …. To seek the flow and give my self a rest from that invasive, stifling, editorial biotch who lives within me
I do it …. To maintain my “Mulligan” cred with my tribe over at the FORUM

I do it …. Because it scares the bejezuz our of me…. and there ain’t nothing better than stomping FEAR on the head and doing a lil boogie dance all over him on my screened in porch.

Thanks for listening.

Drop a line if you are a fellow 3day fanatic.
Let me know why YOU DO IT.

go easy -p

10 Comments on “Why I do the 3 Day Novel Contest…

  1. Pingback: Well, this seems like a much better idea « A New Set of Strings

  2. I do it because it’s one way to remove my internal editor and just immerse in the story. The time constraint forces me to get creative fast which I find helpful. And I do it because it’s crazy mad fun. 🙂

    I love this post…thanks for sharing it! The links are really helpful. Point taken on outlining…it’s good for some people and not for others. We all have to do what works for our writing style.

    Good luck this year! 🙂


    • Hey Pam
      Thanks for popping over and commenting.
      Good luck to you too!

      On the outlining front….I may have to arm wrestle GAL to get me SOMETHING to start with 😉

  3. Wow, thanks for sharing your maddening, exciting, charmingly terrifying thought on the 3 Day Novel Contest! This is my first year and I must admit I am equal parts terrified and exhilarated.

    Why am I embarking on this seemingly impossible journey?
    • Because I know it is possible.
    • Because I’m pretty great with tight deadlines, and really terrible with long ones.
    • Because I’ve had a particularly scary story in my head for years and this seems like the best way to let it out.
    • Because I’ve been on a roll this year and if I don’t ride this crest, I’m not sure when I’ll have this sort of creative burst again.
    • Because the moment I found out about this contest, I’ve been dying to start writing.
    • Because it’s given me the chance to find encouragement from others and to help other writers in return.
    • Because I’m a crazy workaholic masochist who’s decided to say yes to every interesting project this year.
    • Because I’m terrified of this competition, which only makes me more certain that I’m doing the right thing.

    Best of luck to all of us!

    • Hey Crimson.
      Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving such a fabulous comment!
      Sounds like you’ve been having a great year.
      Wishing you a wild, fun, genius filled, 3day!

      go go go! -p

      AND PS – Your comic is glorious. I dig it.

  4. Pingback: …a bunk of one’s own… A place to work. « pambustin

  5. Pingback: VIDEO: Pam’s Top 5 Tips for 3DNC Prep (with Mulligan) | pambustin

  6. Pingback: Und now for something completely different…. Another 3 Day Novel Post | pambustin

  7. Yes, I love the 3DNC! Every year I try to think of a good reason NOT to do it… some years I succeed with my projects, some years I fail. But at least I get three days of writing time all to myself, and I don’t feel the least bit guilty about it. It’s even better than NaNoWriMo, since you can certainly set aside a long weekend, whereas setting aside an entire month is usually not all that doable (unless you only write for an hour or so a day…). I love having those three days to think about nothing else but my novel. I think that’s the important part, because sometimes when you have too *much* time, you just let it slip away from you, and nothing gets completed. Having a short deadline forces you to create, whether you’re feeling it or not.

    • Hey Laura – thanks for stopping by. Sending you all the good musing/writing vibes for this year’s contest.

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Finding My Bearings Now

A post-dramatic approach to breast cancer

Starting Over

Because there's never enough time to do it right the first time but there's always enough time to do it over

Ailish Sinclair

Stories and photos from Scotland

Cathy Standiford

Historical fiction, poetry, essays

Finding My Bearings Now

A post-dramatic approach to breast cancer

Starting Over

Because there's never enough time to do it right the first time but there's always enough time to do it over

Ailish Sinclair

Stories and photos from Scotland

Cathy Standiford

Historical fiction, poetry, essays

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