5 Things I Learned During the 3 Day Novel Contest

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My friend Anisa hinted, prodded, poked, goaded and shamed me into entering the 3 Day Novel Contest back on Labour Day weekend. It was her second time and I surmise she wanted to share the experience. You know, pay it forward and all that jazz.

So I did.

I read up on the site (www.3daynovel.com) how it worked. Essentially, you start midnight Friday night and finish midnight Monday night— 72 hours of frantic typing. You’re allowed to plan as much as you like so long as you don’t write a word of prose ahead of time. The story must be complete, but the standard of editing is expected to be, well, shoddy. The average effort is about 20000 works, so it probably should be called the 3 Day Novella, but who’d enter that?!

I took it to heart and crafted a page of point-form notes, figuring that to be enough to pants out a story. I ended up bleary eyed with a complete skittle-and-caffeine fueled story at about 12000 words— far short of the average. Still, for my first year, I’m happy with that.

So what did I learn?

  1. Planning. In order to do this, one has to plan out the story. You either do this ahead of time, or you end up doing it after a frustrating day of stumbling along. At some point, you go crazy on a whiteboard, high on marker-juice, plastering all surfaces with sticky notes. You really are better off doing this ahead of time if you want to hit any word count target. Remember that all plans are obsolete once you begin. Be okay with that. It's the act of planning and ordering your thoughts that matters.
  2. Know the difference between plot, premise and story. Even though I wrote on this topic before, I still fell in to the trap of only having a premise. After the first 4000 words, it became very clear that I had no freaking idea where the story was heading or why the characters cared. I had to stop and naval gaze for a bit to sort that out. Once I had my plot and my characters' story arcs figured out, things became much easier.
  3. Don't edit as you go. Resist the temptation. That road leads to ruin. Write for a spell, then edit for a spell. Treat editing as a break from writing, but timebox it, otherwise, you'll never get done. It's all about flow. When you're in a creative flow state, don't interrupt yourself to edit. Just sweat words. Or bleed them. Whatever works for you.
  4. It's a marathon, not a race. Take breaks and get sleep. Naps and walks are awesome. Something about neurotransmitters and oxygen or some crap like that. Keep them short though or you'll lose momentum.
  5. Don't give up. Phone a friend. Hug a puppy. Whatever gets you back in the saddle. Just don't give up.

I probably learned more things, but that’s what sticks with me. I can’t wait to do it again. Masochist.

All of this applies to NaNoWriMo (nanowrimo.org) around the corner. Break out the sticky notes.

What about you? Did you try 3DN or NaWriMo? Any tips or tricks?

NOTE: This post also appears at Writer’s Carnival.

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