Tag Archives: 3 day novel contest

Write a Novel in 3 Days? Why Not?

For the past 3 years, I’ve been booked Labor Day weekend — no picnics, barbecues, hikes or drives to the country.  You’ll find me out on my balcony (weather permitting) with my laptop and a cup of weak coffee by my side, churning out a mini-masterpiece for the  International 3 Day Novel Contest.  It’s a simple premise — start and complete a novel over the 72 hour holiday weekend.

On the honor system.  It’s Canadian.

The first year I entered, I did  hope to achieve the ultimate prize: publication.  The first prize is a book contract with a small press.  They don’t announce the winners till January.  I drove myself nuts waiting.  It was a more intense experience than any previous contest I’d ever entered before.  The reason now seems clear.  This isn’t a normal situation where you enter using something that’ you wrote long ago.  The 3-Day demands that you create something new and create it under intense pressure.  You are allowed to write an outline in advance though mine have proven useless once I started.  One emerges at the end with a sense that one has been through, if not an ordeal, then at least an intense ritualistic experience.

In my case, I’m not the only one going through it.  My better half  has been a devoted partner, acting as a caregiver, cook, sounding board,  personal assistant , and massage therapist.   He’s also signed off on the “affirmation” statement that the novel was started and completed within the time frame.

This year life issues were getting in the way of the creative flow. Ten days before the big day, I had no clear idea about what I even wanted to write.  The BH demanded I show him some outlines and pick a plot so that I would not spend the first few hours staring in horror at blank screen.  I came up with two ideas — one was a sort of As I Lay Dying set in present day Queens, the other a strangely lighthearted lad-lit tale of a youngish man getting romantic advice from an old man/ghost haunting his basement apartment.   Thank goodness, he advised me to go for the latter.

Have I ever won?  Not exactly.  But winning isn’t everything; in fact, it’s not even relevant.  I’d compare it to entering the New York City Marathon.  It’s much more about personal best and achievement than it is about getting first place.  (Though it would be nice if like a marathon they gave prizes in categories.  I’d settle for best novel in the under 25k words category by a woman over 40.)  However, that’s not how I felt the first time I entered.

My first entry, The Death Trip came in at a bit above 20,000 words, barely a novella.  They say size doesn’t matter, but then they say it might be a factor.  I didn’t even make the shortlist.  My better-half who loved the story, is still bitter.  But here’s what I did get out of it:  I got a novella draft in need of little (but not much) revision.  I not only got it quick, but I got it with a story that I might never have bothered with otherwise.  I learned that I could crank out something coherent in 3 days.  I also used the obsession I developed waiting for the results as the basis for a story I told at the Narativ Story Workshop which was filmed, and then used by 3Day on their website.

I revised the novella and realized after a couple of rejections there wasn’t a big market for it at that length.  I had no desire to either shorten or expand it, so I decided to put it out as an e-book. To date I’ve had over 1,800 downloads.

My effort the second time around, Hungry Ghosts, actually made the short-list.  It too barely made it to 20k, but I fell in love with the story and although other projects have gotten in the way, I’m still working on expanding it to a full novel length.  With its combination of erotica and horror, I’m hoping it may even be commercially viable.   I’m sure it never would have been written without the contest. All I had of it before Labor Day was a first line (which I wound up changing), a premise that wasn’t completely thought out, and a list of characters.

This year, I promised myself I would somehow get up to 27k, and somehow made it to just that point.   Of course I’m still hoping that the third time is the charm, but even if I don’t make this year’s short list, I’m still feeling high from the writing.  As a way to jump start a first draft, the 3 Day can’t be beat.

It hasn’t gotten easier over time.  I had a tough first night or more literally morning this go-round,  but the spirit of the thing kicked in — the idea that in some way, I’d been “preparing,” anticipating this special weekend, reserving it for a purpose.   I felt like I had nothing to lose by continuing, so there was no reason not to push on to the end.

I wound up with something unlike anything I’d written before — a lighthearted view of gentrification that almost celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit of people who buy and develop property, a romance that might even work, a happy ending!

The process allows writers to take risks and encourages them to follow Elmore Leonard’s maxim and “skip the boring parts” because there’s simply no time to write them.  Whatever I think I learned getting my MFA is useless.  More useful is the storytelling  technique practiced at Narativ.  Although that method was designed for oral storytelling of true stories, the method of focusing on “what happened” and not explaining it, kept me from getting lost in my story and forced me to keep going, even when I wasn’t sure of where.

Thanks to the contest, I now have one novella out in the world attracting a little bit of attention, and I have two projects  that need development and expansion, so I don’t have to face the dreaded blank page.   I have confidence in my ability to crank out material under pressure and I’ve further honed my skills.  The contest allows you to turn your home into a writer’s retreat at a much lower cost than actually traveling to one.  It costs $50 to enter, waived if you got a prize or honorable mention the previous year.

So to anyone who writes fiction or has even thought about writing fiction mark your calendar now and start thinking  about the book you’ll be writing Labor Day Weekend 2011 (thinking is not against the rules).

Here’s the clip of me talking about my first  3- Day experience:

thoughts on entering yet another writing contest…

I’ve entered the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. After my experience with the 3-Day, one might question the wisdom.

The 3 Day broke my heart in part because I wrote a novel (or more accurately novella) The Death Trip, specifically for the contest. If I hadn’t had the 3-Day deadline, I don’t know that I ever would have started or finished it. The time limit forced me to tell the story and not get lost in subplots or introspection. If I’m the mother of the work, than 3-Day is the father or at least the sperm donor. I’m proud of that baby, especially the way he grew and developed following his premature birth, so entering was worth it, despite the emotional repercussions of daddy’s abandonment.

I don’t expect to win the ABNA or even come close, and the work I’ve submitted, Loisaida had a long history before I even heard of the award.

The ABNA is sponsored by Create Space – Amazon’s self-publishing arm. The winner gets published by Penguin with a $25,000 advance. The expected 10,000 entries are first judged solely on the pitch. Most people will be eliminated before their manuscripts are seen by anyone. Loisaida is dark and not easy to categorize. My intended audience is not everyone. While I hope the quality of the pitch will carry me, it wouldn’t surprise me if I don’t make it past the first round.

The 3 Day was started by writers and is about the process. The ABNA was started by Create Space and is about publishing. 9,999 people will not win, and if a good percentage of them decide to self-publish through Create Space, than Amazon is the biggest winner. The ABNA has an American Idol-style aspect. The public gets to download excerpts from the top 500, rate and review them. Once the judges pick the top 3, the readers vote for the winner. Penguin gets a book that has already been vetted by industry insiders, gotten publicity and built a fan base.

So knowing that this is all a capitalist plot, why enter? Because:

Everything is a crapshoot and at least this one has no entry fee.

If I make it to the top 500, that means that my pitch was deemed “worthy” by Amazon editors AND my excerpt made the grade with Amazon Vine reviewers. My manuscript will be reviewed and rated by editors from Publisher’s Weekly which is an enormous free service which will provide useful feedback for further revisions.

In the extremely unlikely event that I reach the top 100, (kinahora, pfft, pfft), the manuscript will be under review by Penguin editors and have a shot even if I don’t win. (Meantime, the excerpt will be out there for agents and readers to see.)

So the trick is knowing what I know, not to wind up gliding on my hopes and crashing if/when I don’t make it to the top 2,000 or 500 or 100.

When I was younger, I both wanted to write and wanted to be recognized for having written. The recognition didn’t come and I stopped writing. Now that I have some wisdom and can hear time’s winged chariot hurrying near,, I want and need to write more than ever. If the writing life means taking on just enough paid work to get by, I’ll make the sacrifice. Whether I choose to write is one of the areas of my life where I have the power. What I can’t control is other people – agents and editors who may not like my work or may not think it’s marketable.

By nature, I’m pragmatic and like comfort — a true Taurus, not that I believe in that crap. It would be icing on the cake to have recognition and actually make money doing what I love (not that I don’t love what I do now). So for me, the test of my wisdom is to send out the work and enter the damn contests and learn what I can, and not let my ego crash every time I lose or every time I get a form rejection or a scrawled “not for us” on a returned cover. The test is not wasting time.


I’m turning 50 and still an aspiring writer which is like running around in a string bikini with a belly ring. At 50 even if you’re Madonna, it’s kinda sad.

Last summer, I enter the 3 Day Novel Contest – it’s Canadian. You start and complete a novel over the labor day weekend. On the honor system. Oh Canada.

The winner gets published. The rest of us shmucks are out 50 bucks.

Now it’s late January and I’m awaiting the results as though it were a biopsy, obsessively monitoring contest updates for hints about when they’ll announce, and meanwhile the brain won’t stop thinking about how my life will change if I win, how I’m destined never to win anything, how the producers of Who Wants to Be Millionaire sense my loserliness and I’ll never sit in the hot seat across from Meredith, how I showed early promise once, but let it slip away and ti-i-i-ime is not on my side, and maybe HRT would be worth it, even with the cancer risk…

And so I turn to the internets for distraction. It’s not surfing. It’s driving. It’s aimless driving with free gas on a highway with infinite exits, attractive rest stops and no reason to hurry home. I type my name, I type Pogo (the name of a story I’d written over 20 years ago – my entire published oeuvre) and I type The Quarterly (the name of the literary journal in which it appeared).

I get the usual: find Marion Stein, irrelevant links. Somewhere on the second or third screen there’s something in a language that’s not English. I click. It’s a course description in Danish with enough English words – titles and names of units for me to get the gist. The authors include Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway, and William Shakespeare. And there in a unit called Man vs Nature: Marion Stein, Pogo, The Quarterly. There’s my story. All grown up and living in Europe.

It’s a secondary school.

I find my way to the school’s website. There’s a thumbnail of the teacher – graying curly hair, forties at least. I close my eyes and see her young, maybe during her gap year. In Chiang Mai, she stays at a backpackers hotel run by a German – don’t talk about the war – and his unstereotypicaly assertive Thai wife. Her friends are out hiking, but she’s getting over the effects of some bad Ecstasy. There’s a rooftop patio with comfy chairs and an astounding mountain view. Books left by fellow travelers mostly English but she majored in English. She picks up a weather beaten copy of The Quarterly, Issue 9. There are a couple of pieces she likes, so she holds onto it. Years later she’s working on the curriculum, has an idea and remembers reading something that would fit. Where was it again? She goes to her shelf and picks through several Grantas, a couple of Paris Reviews and oh there it is! Oh yes, that will do.

I email the teacher. A week later, I hear back. She first read Pogo in a class she took at the Southern Danish University and has been using it for years as an example of a “postmodern” text.

Okay, this isn’t exactly lunch at Balthazar with Scorcese discussing my screenplay. It’s not winning the 3 Day – which I found out today I’m not even shortlisted for . It’s not getting my shot on Millionaire, but somewhere out there, this story was floating like a note in a bottle and it was found, and miraculously, I found out that it was found, and in a moment of everyday despair, of hopelessness, Denmark sent me a lifeline.

God bless the internets.
God save Queen Margarette..