I have wanted to write a novel since I was 8 years old. Quick math tells me that was 30 years ago. In the last 30 years, guess how many novels I have written?
If you guessed zero, you would be right. If you guessed higher than that, I thank you for your optimism about my work ethic and hate to disappoint you.
Ever since we decided to redesign our lives and take this trip around the world I’ve been investigated the other ways I want my life to look different. One of those ways is to become a writer of books.
Over Labor Day weekend I took part in the 32nd Annual 3-Day Novel Contest. Yep, you heard me right. I attempted to write a novel in 3 days and paid for the privilege of doing it. For $50, each contestant can submit their 3-day novel to a publishing house and know that it will be read and judged. The winner gets a book deal, and 2 runner ups get cash prizes. Everyone else gets a certificate of completion and the knowledge that they did it.
How did I do? Well, you can watch the short video below, or you can just read on to find out that…I DID IT! I went to the love side of my love/hate affair with caffeine and sacrificed on sleep and fun to churn out a 100-page manuscript that falls solidly between the extremes of “piece of crap” and “masterpiece.”
Here are the 5 things I learned about writing a novel in 3 days:
- Make a Plan for Everything. Outline the book, set daily word/page counts for yourself, and work out in advance your food plan so you don’t have to leave. Do not rely on your creative juices alone to get you through this. Trust me.
- Fail Fast. If you have an idea that isn’t working, chuck it. You don’t have time to mess around. Ask your partner/roommate/friend/Twitter feed/total stranger for ideas if you have to, anything to get your mind moving in another direction, and move on.
- Have a support system in place. Like #2 says, you have to have someone to make sure you take regular bathroom breaks and eat, and it helps to have feedback on your ideas. No idea you have will be as good as it can be without feedback from other smart people. I made a huge change in my novel due to a response I got on Twitter (thank you, @obsrvationalist!).
- Done is better than perfect. If you try to make every sentence perfect you will never finish, and if you don’t finish, you can’t compete. Get your meaning across and worry about revisions later.
- Edit and revise when you are done. You may find that you used the wrong character’s name in chapter 4 or that the age timeline doesn’t work (I had a baby in 1985 that went to high school in 1996!).
Warren was such a huge help during this process – I’m not sure I would have finished without him. He talked me down when I was feeling low, read chapters, offered feedback, and made sure I stayed caffeinated.
I also took advantage of Twitter and Facebook to keep friends in the loop and get a dose of inspiration and support. If you use Twitter, you will know that hashtags help you follow conversations from people you don’t even know, so I was able to “meet” several of the other writers simply by searching on the #3dnc hashtag.
If you are interested in a similar writing challenge, the National Novel Writing Month is coming up in November.
What is the thing you’ve wanted to do most but haven’t started? Could you devote 3 days to making it happen? If you do, you might find it is not as unattainable as you think.