This weekend I will be writing an entry for the International 3 Day Novel Contest. The contest takes place every Labor Day weekend as it has since 1977. Contest entrants begin writing at 12:01 a.m. on the Saturday of the Labor Day weekend but must stop by 11:59 on the following Monday. Sept 1-3. Only what is written during that time counts and can be entered into the contest. It’s TOTAL Madness!
I began doing this in 2010 and with the exception of last year, I have done it every year since I started. So this is year 7 for me. It is brutal and really tests your creativity, typing skills, mental fortitude and sanity. With help from gallons of coffee; extremely little sleep- like two-hours-a-nite sleep; constant writing, rewriting, misspelling and deleting; eating nothing but snack-size finger foods prepared ahead because you have no time to cook (although I do have a friend who cooks a huge vat of Beanie Weenie and eats nothing but that for the entire weekend….); and a quiet corner somewhere with hopefully no outside interruptions so you can optimize the writing time… it is not everyone’s cup of tea but for me it is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. To be able to write an entire book in three days. Awesome! Freakin Awe-Some!
The object is to write a book of novella length, which is defined as a literary work of 20K to 40K words with a cohesive beginning, middle and end. Most people shoot for 30-35K word count. I usually average a bit under 30K that but one year I did manage 37K. I was a wreck afterwards. Complete gelatinous blob. But I wrote a book. And If you think 30K words is an easy feat and that novellas are not really books… let me name a few you may have heard of:
I Am Legend, Richard Matheson; Animal Farm, George Orwell; The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Heminway; Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck; The Turn of the Screw, Henry James and A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess. All Novella length.
I feel confident none of the above brilliant books were written during a Labor Day writing frenzy but it shows that just because a work falls in a small word count, doesn’t mean it can’t be just as brilliant or entertaining as War and Peace.
I also feel just as confident that most of those written during this contest fall nowhere close to such brilliance but the ones that see the light of day are pretty entertaining. And, in my humble opinion and in the heart of the writer who got the idea on paper or computer screen, a major accomplishment.
Before the contest, you are allowed to prepare a brief outline ahead of time and gather research materials but nothing, absolutely nothing of the actual story can be written before the contest time. I do not outline, per se. I gather (scribble) thoughts or phases (usually incoherent to anyone but me) to describe what I want to put together in a story. But that’s just how I roll. The contest runs on the honor system. Nobody stands over you and monitors your time and key strokes. It’s just you, your imagination, your coffee and your computer. This honor concept works because the contest is first before anything else, a personal writing experiment and, as the saying goes, you only hurt yourself when you cheat. (Plus since the judges are all writers or in the publishing world and have been doing this a very long time, they have ways to tell if you cheated.)
You can write in whatever setting you want, in whatever genre you want, anywhere in the world. Personally, I stay in my jammies the whole weekend and I may or may not brush my hair. It’s a win, win!
When the time is up, you send it by mail or submit electronically online to the contest for judging. The judges then pick the winner and the winner’s entry is awarded a publishing contract and the book is printed and for sale in bookstores and online just like any other book.
It’s wild and terrifying but loads of fun.
And very, very, VERY little sleep.
And there’s Chocolate. Did I mention coffee AND chocolate??