Most writers know it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that just about everyone thinks they could write a book if they just had the time. We know this because it’s almost the first sentence we hear when someone finds out we’re writers. Time. It takes time to write a novel—or does it? There are many stories of authors locking themselves in a motel room or a wilderness cabin in order to complete a novel. Hemingway wrote a novel in a matter of days, Alexandre Dumas won a bet after writing a novel in 66 hours. For a litany of writers who’ve taken the challenge of dashing off a novel in a matter of days, click on Brian Forté’s Between Borders. You’ll discover the history of the classic Three-Day Novel Contest that is still going strong despite a varied history.
Somehow or another I came across the Three Day Novel Contest in the mid-90s and decided, with a few other brave writer friends, to accept the challenge. Granted, none of us put the finishing touches on the Great American Novel, but most of us actually did finish a rough—really rough—first draft. In fact, when I spoke to Chris Rogers a few years later, she said that she did continue to work on the novel and sold the manuscript several years later.
Why would anyone want to hole up in a room and write a first draft in a white-hot heat? Producing copy is one major reward. No, it’s not perfect prose. Yes, it will require a lot of work and you may end up throwing out half the material you composed; but the resulting feelings of accomplishment and the concrete evidence of printed pages stacked neatly on the desk at the end of the contest are well worth the effort. But perhaps the best reason is that your psyche undergoes a paradigm shift. No longer will you sit around day after day bemoaning the fact that you can’t write, that writer’s block has squeezed your production to a mere trickle and your writing life has come to a complete stop. Instead you will have embraced, even internalized, the can-do spirit.
Most writers, when left to their own devices, will piddle their days away and barely get a paragraph written. But give them a deadline, give them a reason to write, and the fingers fly across the keyboard. But maybe three days sounds a tad too extreme. That’s okay, because the 2004 contest has come and gone. (The contest runs over Labor Day Weekend.) But another opportunity is just around the corner. November is NaNoWriMo time.
NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is an annual event where thousands of writers begin writing a 175 page (50,000 words) novel on November 1st and finish by the stroke of midnight on November 30th. Don’t let the wordcount scare you. If you figure 250 words per page (double-spaced), then four pages equal a 1,000 words. Write four pages a day and you’ll wind up with 30,000 words. Work a little longer on the weekends to pick up the additional 20,000 (5,000 words/20 pages per weekend) and you’re home free. (Hey, it’s a plan.)
The NaNoWriMo has grown over the years and had 25,000 participating writers last year. The contest has expanded to such an extent that the organizers have set up a great website where you can sign up to participate and become a part of the larger community with forums, regional gatherings—yes, there is a Houston contingent—and even genre groups. Participants are urged to make friends and share their daily experiences but it’s not mandatory. A resourceful annual participant has even created a nifty program that anyone can download for free to chart their daily progress and see visible expressions of their progress in pie charts and daily analysis of where they stand in relation to their goal. The website is full of tips, how-tos, and past experiences.
So, the question now is whether you’re up to the challenge. Will you finally write the first draft of that novel you know is deep inside you by signing up for this year’s National Novel Writing Month? Go ahead and spend some time reading the history and FAQs on the website. They’re anything but dry and humorless. Then be brave. Sign up. Be one of the projected 40,000 writers around the world tickling their keyboard and teasing their novel into being.
Let me know. I’ll be there, too.
Oh, are you wondering what happened to my 3-day novel? It’s still alive and growing.