September 4, 2013

3-Day Novel Contest Review

3-Day Novel Contest Review

August 31st-September 2nd, 2013

If your face did not look like this at midnight on Saturday, there may have been something wrong.

I can't think of any proper way to start this blog post other than "I'm not exhausted anymore."

Three days, fifty-six thousand words, a story that's been on my mind for eight years, lots of caffeine, at least one crying fit in the Starbucks bathroom, and probably an extra five pounds. It was an experience I needed, and I'm so glad I did it.

What it is: For those of you who didn't catch me explaining earlier, or weren't checking my Twitter or Facebook this weekend, the 3-Day Novel Contest is a challenge to write a book in three days and submit it for review. The contest was started thirty-six years ago and (clearly) is still going strong.

Smile for the camera, main character!
What I wrote: I'm keeping a lot of this under wraps, as contest rules state that publication before announcing the winner is grounds for disqualification. But I can tell you this: it is a story that I first created when I was sixteen years old. I felt so strongly about it THEN that I tried writing it over the course of a summer, but got more distracted with other things (read: roller coasters) and left the story behind. It never fully left me alone, though. But every time I tried to re-write it, I would discourage myself or tell myself I wasn't allowed to write this story, that some things were best left in the past.

This summer, however, has already been a summer of discovery and forgiveness regarding my past (I've mentioned this a lot on MemR, my personal blog). I made the decision back in June that I would finally write this story. My assistant later told me that I probably could have only written this story in three days, as it was so emotional that doing it for 30 ala NaNoWriMo would have stretched it out too long. "The story was just waiting to burst forth," he said.

I made the above desktop for my computer the night before the contest and shared it with Twitter; you can see where it sees SOSI/Cap-Sid and 3-Day Novel Contest, but the logo is covered up by my text box. Yes, I really do most of my writing in a box that small. (I import it to OpenOffice after my first draft is done, like now.) Drawing's a good way for me to destress, and it was cool to hit the desktop and see my main character cheering me on over the weekend.

Take a deep breath...
How I prepared: I am a planner, not a pantser. I used the same 30-day plan I use for NaNoWriMo (which, yes, I will detail as things get closer to November), but condensed into a 3-day version. So instead of thirty days worth of writing, I did ten days worth of writing each day to complete the plan. For the most part, this worked out quite well.

In the front of my 30-day notebook, I planned out each and every single day in detail, making sure that I had enough time to write, rest, eat, and the like. As someone who has done NaNoWriMo before, I knew writing speed would not be a problem (I've been clocked at 103WPM QWERTY), so I gave myself an hour per day/per 1,667 words. Using this plan, I figured the book would come out between 50K and 60K long; at 56K, I think I did pretty good.

Above you'll see my plan for the first day of the competition (click on it and it'll get bigger). I stuck to the plan for the most part on day 1 and 2, but deviated slightly on day 3. (The plan was still to go to Starbucks; I just ended up going at a different time.) My assistant made sure I stuck to the plan, took my phone away when I was distracted by Twitter, and got me food and snacks whenever I needed. He also made sure I slept on time, as well, which is good when all you want to do at three in the morning is write some more.

Day 1, already with the brace.
Where I went: Since I do spend every November writing like crazy anyway, that not only affected how I planned my novel for the three days, but also how and where I wrote. I know that in order to really be effective at writing with speed, I have GOT to get out of my house. That said, I would like to personally thank a few establishments who housed me this weekend:

Argo Tea in Chelsea, on 26th and 7th: This is one of my usual writing haunts. I went here to kick things off on Saturday with a chocolate mint tea and a good solid few hours of writing.
Darling Coffee in Inwood, on 207th and Broadway: This small coffee shop is actually in my home neighborhood, which made it ideal for early morning writing. I sent my assistant over early to get a spot and a hot chocolate. It's homey enough that I could leave the laptop with him while I took a walk mid-session.
Whole Foods Market TriBeCa, off of Warren and Greenwich: Yes, that's where the World Trade Center picture comes from! Sunday night was the only part of the marathon my assistant wasn't available for, so I went here to try and continue writing. I only lost forty-five minutes or so to the Internet, so I don't think I did that bad. It was freezing, but I moved spots and got a lot accomplished.
Starbucks, on 45th and 7th: My friends and I refer to this as the 'secret Starbucks' because we always seem to get a seat, even though it's right off Times Square. This is the place where I ultimately finished the novel Monday night (and where I had my crying breakdown in the bathroom).

For those moments when I wrote at home, because they did exist, I ended up borrowing my roommate's desk while she was away at DragonCon, mostly because it was bigger and didn't squish my feet, but also because I knew I'd be able to focus. (My roommate is also an author, just in case you're wondering. You should check her out here.)

The Whole Foods is under Barnes and Noble.
Tips I would give first-time 3-Day Novelists:

1: Write a story that you are passionate about, from the bottom of your soul, something that just has to spring forth from your fingers. If nothing else will keep you going, this will.
2: Plan. And for goodness sake, if you do pants, crowdsource/do it Dvorak style.
3: Get an assistant. If you're lucky, like me, you'll have a significant other who is dedicated to your cause. If you need assistance, find somebody to help, even if you pay them for the weekend. It is WORTH IT and made the difference between crossing that finish line and throwing my computer at a wall.
4: Find a comfortable place to write. Whether that's Whole Foods or your roommate's desk. (Sorry Tamsin!)
5: Make sure you have time to edit. This is the one thing I didn't factor enough of in my time schedule (mostly because I'm so used to doing NaNoWriMo, where editing is evil). Give it a quick read through to make sure it's coherent. I had my assistant give it a read each night to make sure it was okay (he read it on my iPad; I'm pretty sure that's not illegal).
6: Find other people who are doing it and reach out to them. Even every once in a while. It will help to remind you on Day 2 that you're not alone. Because Day 2 sucks.

I'd like to make a few shoutouts: to @GaroNalbandian for being my assistant, to @tamsinsilver for the use of her desk, and to my new friends on Twitter: @USNessie, @DanniM86, @kyleen66, @AnnyChih, @emma_graney, @bryceiswrite, @BrentonDana, @agirlnamedbob, @Dabble58, @DixieVonFur, @Julia_Vyse, @Strviolin, @theworld4realz, @stacy_xavier, @CatKitellis, @junebugskippin, @Lorianne137, @quirkycity, @annie_kathleen, and @omar_aok. That's a lot of you, and I'm sorry if I missed somebody. I hope you all got exactly what you wanted out of this experience!

One more quick shoutout to Ringo, my seven-year old MacBook, as this was most likely his last ever writing marathon with me. It sounds pretty stupid to make a big deal about this, but Ringo, I wouldn't have made it this far without you.

Finally, here comes the hard part. This story that I've loved forever is going to be picked apart by people I don't even know, probably ridiculed, tossed in the slush pile, and so on and so forth. My assistant loved it, but he's my boyfriend -- he's probably paid (somehow) to say it's really good. I am scared. But I was also scared to submit my post-apocalyptic zombie novel (which I am also very fond of) to my critique group, and I was scared when I first published Dvorak online.

But if we only write for our desk drawers, then we will be the only inhabitants of our world. When a writer stops being just a writer and makes the conscious decision to become an author, the worlds they hold within their heads no longer become theirs and theirs alone. That also means, to every writer out there who is reading this: you are not alone, unless and only unless you choose to be.

I don't quite know if I'll be doing this next year. I suppose if there's another story that wants to grab me, then I'll answer the call. Until then, I'm happy with where I am, with the novel I have, and I hope you are as well.

And if this wasn't you on Tuesday at midnight, there was still something wrong.

Edit: @IambicAdmonit on Twitter just posted her 3-Day Novel Contest review! You can check it out here!
Edit on September 9th: More reviews! Check out what @DanniM86@BrentonDana
and @Lorianne137 have to say about the experience!


  1. It was DEFINITELY a crazy ride. I also had a 'helper'. My bf texted me and told me to eat (I actually did pretty good on my own, I was surprised). If there's any advice I would give, it's to plan. I'm a planner by nature, but I've been exploring pantsing this year, and I pantsed the 3 day novel. Never again! It's too short a time frame, and you can't keep your characters in line long enough to get through while ensuring that it makes sense.

    But it was fun. And I would recommend it to anyone who thinks they would have the stamina for it. You learn a lot about yourself as a writer during the process.

  2. Hi!

    I loved tweeting with you last weekend.

    My netbook's name is Chachi. I should introduce him to Ringo sometime!

  3. You did awesome! And thanks so much for your support too! It was a great experience over all! <3