Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Novel in Thirty Days? Or Three?!

I stayed home from work today with a miserable sinus infection. When I get walloped with one of these, it can really stop me in my tracks...bad sinus pain and pressure, congestion, a cough (which moved rapidly toward my chest overnight), and body aches. I've spent most of the day, whenever possible, on the couch.

And I've enjoyed perusing my first issue of Poets & Writers, a writing magazine sent to me as a gift from my good friend Sheila. I so appreciate her encouragement, and I appreciate having the chance to look over this fine magazine for the first time in many years. I used to pick it up on the newsstand at Gene's Books, my favorite independent bookstore in King of Prussia, PA (alas, Gene's is no more). And over the years I've checked in from time to time with the P&W website, especially to look through their excellent classified section. But this is the first time I've read a hard copy of the magazine in probably a decade.

The first article that caught my eye was one entitled "Writing a Novel in Three Days." I started to chuckle almost immediately. Erin in Erie, my good friend and faithful blog reader, recently reviewed the film Alex & Emma, and made the very good point (I thought) that one of the biggest elements of disbelief suspension in the plot was the idea that anyone could seriously be expected to crank out a novel in thirty days. So when I saw an article that actually cut that time down to three days, I had to check it out!

And the article was intriguing. Apparently there really is an annual "3 Day Novel" competition each Labor Day weekend. The writers who participate (after paying a 50-dollar fee) have exactly three days to write a novel sized manuscript and then postmark it by the day after. They can research and even outline all they want beforehand, but they can do the actual writing only in those 72 hours.

My first thought was: "who would live my life during those 72 hours?" I don't mean eating and sleeping -- but working and child-tending and errand-running? Just finding three days, let alone three days stipulated by someone else, would be a herculean feat! Beyond that immediate thought though, I confess I found the story interesting. The author, Patricia Chao, reflected on the process and the kind of writing and thinking it forced her to do in a short time period -- she participated in the contest this past year. As she put it:

"One of the contest organizers maintains that the judges know if you cheat because all 3-Day novels have a certain tone, that of prose written under extreme duress. That tone of the furious first draft is what we gradually temper when we revise, when we make the manuscript truly our own. What critics call style is the result of painstaking, patient labor."

Chao claims she actually enjoyed the process, though it was exhausting, and that it did what she hoped -- jumpstart her writing juices. I certainly don't think I can find three days to devote solely to writing right now, but I do find myself feeling inspired to try to dedicate at least a few minutes a day to fiction and poetry again. I can remember the exhiliration of a "furious first draft" but it's been too long since I've really experienced that.


Erin said...

Phew! And I thought 30 days was intense... ;) I do think it's true that having that sort of pressure on you can force you into action, but I suspect I would go into brain freeze under such conditions... A few years back, I entered a contest in which I had to complete an unfinished Mark Twain story entitled "A Murder, A Mystery and a Marriage." I recall I spent a couple of days writing furiously for that one, and the results were dubious, but it still brought a nice feeling of accomplishment. I'm really thinking I want to give the 30 days thing a try. But oh, my lack of discipline...

Beth said...

Hmm...30 days sounds far more "do-able" to me now that I've read the article about the 3-day contest! ;)

I bet you could do it, Erin -- you did a great job meeting your challenge with the song/poem parodies last year!

What impressed me about Chao's approach to the 3-day thing was how organized she was: she outlined, she planned how many chapters and how long each should/could be, and she stuck to that. She said she normally doesn't work that way at all, so that in itself was a challenge. She must have done it well; I went over to the 3-Day Novel website and saw that, although she didn't win, she finished in the top 20!