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  • Writer's pictureJan Redford

The International 3-Day Novel Contest 2020-What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

9 days left: Thursday, August 27

2020 seems like THE year to participate for the first time in 3DNC. The perfect pandemic activity - write a full novel in three days on the Labour Day weekend. Most people end up with 100 pages (if lucky) of pure, unadulterated crap, their brain fried from too much caffeine and no sleep, hands cramped up, knots in the neck. Apparently, it takes about a week to recover, both emotionally and physically. But hey, it’s 2020. Pandemic, nursing home crisis, riots, 3-day novel writing contests…. Let’s heap it on.

All that said, I won’t be posting this blog until I actually register for the event. I’ve missed the early-bird deadline but I have the final deadline written in bright pink on my calendar. I should probably only procrastinate till the day before.

What IS the 3DNC?

The description on the 3DNC website: "The 3-Day Novel Contest is a writing challenge that has happened every Labour Day Weekend since 1977. Entrants pre-register and then grit their teeth, lock their doors and try to produce a literary masterwork in 72 short hours. A panel of experienced judges reads the results and the winning novel is published."

Why would I do this to myself?

Good question. They say if you’re doing it to win, don’t bother. There are about 400 manuscripts to compete again, and some of these writers look like diehards, subjecting themselves to this punishment Labour Day after Labour Day. And another bad reason is to end up with something publishable. I want to do it to break through this writer’s block I’ve had since Christmas. My slump coincided with the pandemic for sure, and with the disappointment of not being able to write at the Banff Centre for five glorious weeks after my acceptance into the Writing Studio, but enough is enough. Time to get my butt into gear.

What’s going on in my head a week before the contest, before I’ve even registered for the contest?

I’m already letting the self-doubt creep in. My idea is starting to seem cliched and superficial and my outline looks suspiciously like my life. A multi-generational soap opera. Two narrators, mother and daughter. The daughter with daddy issues can’t stop falling for the wrong men, gets knocked up young, widowed while pregnant (veered off a bit from my life–I was widowed before I got knocked up–go figure) Her mother is married to an alcoholic, grandmother is in a nursing home, all three women want more from life. Check. Check. Check. But I want to write FICTION! I want to write a NOVEL! Will I ever escape the shackles of non-fiction?

In 2018, my dream came true and I published a memoir with Random House, End of the Rope: Mountains, Marriage & Motherhood, and I’m still recovering from the trauma of having my life out there in the world for everyone to read. I even included a couple of (light) sex scenes! What the fuck was I thinking? So now, heading in to my next project, writing a novel seems the safest way to stay a writer without feeling like I’ve had all my skin slowly peeled off. But will I actually register before September 4th?

The thing is, this is the first time I’ve felt motivated to write in a long, long time. I’m actually excited.

8 days left: Friday, August 28

I need a clean slate for this contest so I’m cleaning up my office, starting with attacking the cobwebs with the vacuum. That seems like a big fat metaphor to me. I’ll try for a bit more subtlety when I start the actual writing.

I go for a nice mountain bike ride in the sun and swim in Fawn Lake. I bring my notebook to sit on the beach to record all the brilliant ideas that bombard me as I'm moving my body but I don’t take it out of my pack. No planning done. I come home and drink wine and watch a really stupid, testosterone-laden movie where the men are all tough guys who get shit done and the few female characters are whores for the gang leader and an obnoxious, hysterical girlfriend. Oh, and there’s an older grey-haired woman, a kindly foster mother, but they kill her off in the first scene (in a flashback, no less!) so the boys can seek revenge for the rest of the movie. Brilliant.

I really need to write a good novel with strong female protagonists. Maybe I should do a storyboard. Pretend this is going to be a movie. Watch it in my mind.

OK. Tomorrow I’ll take out the big roll of blank paper and post it on my wall.

7 days left: Saturday, August 29

This is the weekend I’ve designated as sort of a trial run for the real contest, two full days of outline writing. But it’s almost 2 pm and I haven’t done anything but drink coffee and finish most of a crossword puzzle. I haven't brought out my big roll of paper. I’m not sure that I’ll be very good at this 3-day-novel-writing shit.

I’m going to hydrate and work on the outline now. Right this minute.

So far this is what I’m thinking:

The older mom, Sonja…. Sonja? Why Sonja? I hate that name. It was the name of one of my mother’s care aides at the nursing home. I can do better than that. Moira? Ugh. Shirley? Nope. Something a bit different that stands out but not too much. Melissa, Mel for short? Sherry? No, reminds me of a gawdawful neighbour I had once.

How about Clara? That’s the name my daughter Jenna adopted in grade 1 and signed all of her work with, to the dismay of her uptight grinch of a teacher. Maybe Iona? That’s the name I wanted to adopt when I was a little kid. Too different. Maybe Sonja is ok. No. Too Slavic. Maybe Elsa? Grace/Gracie? Gina? Hannah?

Middle narrator is Abby. I do know that. Her daughter is Molly. Or maybe Lucy? Grandmother is Isabella. The dad is Jack. The dead boyfriend is Bobby. How can the readers not like a Bobby? Unlike male screen writers of action movies who kill off the decent women before the movie begins, I kill off the decent men.

Abby returns to her small logging hometown out of desperation (not sure why she's desperate, but I'm sure it'll come to me) with five-year old Molly/Lucy in tow. (I think I like Molly) Will she heal the rift between her and her father? Will her mother ever stand up for herself, stop being everyone’s codependent caretaker and find happiness? Will Jack’s confession of a long-held secret and his true angst, sorrow, be enough to bring the women he loves back to him? And who is the real father of that adorable, feisty five-year-old, the one who’s going to blow all those dysfunctional family cycles to hell?

Shit. I think I’ll make another coffee. It’s now 2:25 and I haven’t done any work on my outline.

Getting out the roll of paper and crayolas. I need to draw this baby into existence.


Stop cleaning toilets!!

6 days left: Sunday, August 30

Vacuumed cobwebs in the morning instead of working on either of my outlines and then went for a long walk with a writing friend. It’s good for me to hang out with someone who has so much happening in her life, who is alive and pushing herself academically, professionally, physically, creatively, socially…. in every way. I am a slug in comparison. A depressed, unmotivated little slug. I feel certain I have to do this contest to break through this writing block. I need to get meaning back in my life.

5 days left: Monday, August 31

I did not sleep a wink last night. How is that even possible? I finally gave up and watched Nashville all night, my country and western soap opera. Makes me want to write a more plot-driven story with lots of romance. Maybe some country music.

Back to outlining my book about Granny. All those days wasted on outlining the wrong novel…. WTF? Is this another commitment avoidance tactic? Waffle between two projects so much that I miss the deadline and end up not writing about anything? Seems like it might work.

4 days left: Tuesday, September 1

OK – this blog sure isn’t turning out to be terribly substantial or helpful. It's clear I haven’t even been able to reach the very low bar I set myself of writing about preparing to write for a contest I might not write for. I'm just writing about how I'm not writing.

Today, instead of outlining either of my brilliant ideas, I’ve been working on my Millens of Montreal family history book and researching the wife of a fourth cousin six times removed on Ancestry.

3 days left: Wednesday, September 2

This outline-writing is crazy-making. I’m doing this contest because I can’t seem to commit to my writing in general and now I can’t even commit to a particular story for this fucking contest. I go back and forth between Abby, the girl who lives in a place that looks suspiciously like Powell River (where I lived when I was 19) with her hippy boyfriend and 5-year old daughter Molly in a teepee and when shit hits the fan has to move back to a place that looks suspiciously like Golden (where I lived for 15 years) to parents who act suspiciously like my parents, to eventually make peace with her father. Seems suspiciously like non-fiction to me.

And then I think, fuck it. I need to write what energizes me and Abby just isn't doing it for me. So I go back to planning my multi-generational, multi-narrator story about Mom, Granny, her mother and her mother and get overwhelmed and start questioning how the hell I could possibly consider a novel of this scope for a three-day novel writing contest.

So, I end up going for a bike ride and swim in Fawn Lake, then drink a cider in the sun.

2 days left: Thursday, September 3

I’ve given up. I don’t think I can do this fucking contest. It’s going to be sunny all weekend and I’m going to lock myself up in my office and write 100 pages (if I’m lucky) of complete crap that no one will ever read for 72 hours and end up in the chiropractor’s office for the next three weeks trying to straighten my neck out, no sleep, no time to eat, just type type type typing away….? Really?

Instead of working on my outline I spent the day on I didn’t even research my own family! I went back to my old research for a friend who is no blood relation whatsoever. A few years ago, she and her five siblings presented me with such a cool mystery that I had to give it a go with my Ancestry subscription. They used to think their father’s parents died in a car crash together in 1924 in England, which is how all the siblings ended up in an orphanage, but an aunt told them a different story: the grandfather, Henry, apparently had a second family and abandoned his 7 or 8 kids to orphanages when their mother died. So, I looked into it and didn’t find out a whole lot then, but today I started to dig up a few gold nuggets.

Turns out, Henry was an even bigger dick than the family suspected. He committed his 20 year old wife, (she was 3 months pregnant and had a one year old boy) to a poor house. The records show she was released to an insane asylum. Poor woman. She did end up back with good old Henry, only to get knocked up about seven more times before dying at 35. Bled to death of endometriosis. Be interesting to look further into that diagnosis.

Maybe this would make a good story for the 3-day novel writing contest! No. It’s too goddamned depressing. And I can't start outlining a THIRD novel two days before the start of the contest.

Anyway, I finally reminded myself that those people are not even related to me, and pulled myself away from Ancestry.

And guess what I did? At 5:44 I signed up for the 3-Day Novel Contest!!! A full day before the deadline. My dyslexic brain has a problem with the 11:59 sign up deadline – hard to tell if that means Thursday or Friday so I decided to play it safe. I hope the $50 deposit is enough to keep me from quitting half way through. Hope it’s enough to get me started tomorrow.

Then instead of outlining, which I fully intended on doing, I celebrated by watching Nashville for the rest of the evening.

1 day left: Friday, September 4

Though it took about four episodes of Nashville to get there, I finally had a breakthrough last night. (Well, early this morning, till 3 am.) Maybe it was just that commitment of signing up I needed. A deadline. I scribbled out six pages of notes for an outline for my matrilineal sweeping saga. I felt like my brain was on fire. This is the exact creative headspace I was hoping this contest could dropkick me back into.

It's terrifying how much I write the way I live my life. I'm a human yo-yo. In despair one moment and elated the next. I can be completely blocked in my writing one day and gushing the next. It's only helpful to be aware of my process if I don't punish myself for it over and over again.

I'm writing this blog partly to get back into the practice of writing, partly to get the courage back up to share my writing, but also to hold my feet to the fire. How embarrassing would that be to post over 2000 words telling the world about my big plans to write a novel in 3 days and then just ride my bike, swim and drink cider all weekend instead? The downside of writing the blog is that I'm STILL not working on my outline. And the 3DNC strongly advises you start with an outline.

It is now noon. Twelve hours till the start of the contest. Planning to go to bed early tonight, no Nashville, get up early and start writing. Need sleep before the first day.

Now I’m going to try to get that outline on paper. I don’t give a shit anymore how much it looks like non-fiction. I work my life’s problems out on the page. Sue me.

0 days left: Saturday, September 5 (12:01 am)

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Oct 12, 2021

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