When I looked at my calendar this morning, I realized it’s nearing that time of the year again: novel-writing season. I’m talking about two ‘events’ which have writers all over locking their excuses for procrastination away in a steel box and throwing away the key (or putting it in a really hard place to find): NaNoWriMo and the 3-Day Novel Contest. This post is about the latter.
When I sit down to write, I often struggle with keeping the words flowing at a constant pace. The problem? I need deadlines. If I’m working on a strict deadline, I can cruise into the zone and not stop to check my mail, surf the net, or pick at my fingernails for however long it takes. I know deadlines work for me because three years ago I participated in the 3-Day Novel Contest. I wrote 56,000 words in 72 hours. The writing may have been crap (I actually don’t think that at all, but, who knows, maybe it was), but I valued the experience in showing me that I could overcome writer’s block by will alone, and I use it as motivation when I feel like I’m just not able to put words on the page.
The competition for the contest is stiff, and who really knows how they judge these type of things anyway? They say in the guidelines they expect manuscripts riddled with typos and in need of major editing. What novel written in 72 hours wouldn’t? They even go as far as to say if your manuscript looks too polished, there will be suspicions you didn’t really follow the rules and your submission could be disqualified. All that aside, if you follow their rules, finish, and submit, you have about 400 competitors. Depending on how you look at it, those are good odds. And even if you don’t place (which I didn’t), you’ll have a novel just itching to be rewritten, expanded, and improved upon. Win-win.
If you decide to participate, know that you are about to experience some of the most exhilarating writing of your life. Oh, and you’ll be tired as hell. Some tips for getting through the contest:
- Come up with a few ideas beforehand you might want to try out. Have a general direction in which way you want to go, but don’t outline too much. I literally didn’t know what idea I was going to go with until I sat down to start the clock. It’s kind of magical, really: the writing will take you where it wants to go.
- Get rid of distractions. Hopefully, you won’t even want to open up your web browser with the pressure of time breathing down your neck, but it doesn’t hurt to be a little proactive. Mostly, though, you need to separate yourself from the types of distractions you can’t control. Like noisy family members.
- Decide on a sleep schedule ahead of time. If you know you can’t operate on less than 5 hours of sleep, don’t go in this thinking you will blaze through the 72 hours without a wink. All you will do is hit a wall and lose precious hours to random naps and trying to keep your eyes open. Decide before-hand when you’re going to take breaks. Even if you don’t stick to the schedule, try to keep the amount of sleep time the same.
- If you feel yourself crashing, take a short nap to re-energize instead of spending a much larger chunk of time writing two words a minute while trying to stay awake.
- This may be controversial, but if the prescribed weekend doesn’t work, choose another one. It’s usually on Memorial Day Weekend. Chances are, you have plans. Or your significant other won’t like the idea of you ‘wasting’ a vacation by locking yourself up in a hotel. The year I did the contest, I drove cross-country during the required weekend. So, I did it the weekend before. I followed all the same rules, made sure not to touch the manuscript after the 72 hours, and sent it in on the appropriate date. Since the whole contest is independent, there’s no real advantage or disadvantage for picking another date, so I don’t consider it cheating.
If you’ve had experience with the contest before, I’m sure we’d all love to hear your thoughts. If you plan on doing it this year, how are you preparing? Let us know.