Normally, Labor Day Weekend brings about thoughts of family reunions, cookouts, and the beginning of school (not to mention the economic and social contributions of workers). But for the last few years, it has had very different associations for me. I think of long nights, early mornings, and typing until my fingers ache and my eyes dry out. You see, Labor Day Weekend is the official time-frame for the 3-Day Novel Contest.
It was shortly after the formation of the Weaklings, my writer’s group, that one of our members told us about the 3-Day Novel Contest.
“You write a novel in three days,” he said, as though that were something that could be done. Some of us had already been working on novels for three years at that point.
“What?” said the rest of us.
We looked up the information online. Sure enough. One novel, three days.
Of course, outlining and character development ahead of time were not against the rules. The only real rule was that you couldn’t start the “Once upon a time…” until midnight between Friday night and Saturday morning and you had to be done by midnight between Monday night and Tuesday morning.
And so I outlined. My story idea that first year was about a dystopian world where sound was illegal. The main character gets caught up in the underground movement to overthrow the government. Action ensues.
I remember that year fondly. Writing it was fun, but the best part for me was the outlining. When I explained the bones of the world and my storyline to my beautiful wife, she caught the vision right away and helped me think through a lot of the details.
“What about cars? How do people get around without making any noise?” she would ask.
“Electric cars, Maglev trains, and very quiet shoes. Besides, people aren’t really allowed to move around outside of their cities anymore,” I would say.
“What about babies?” she would say. “Babies can’t help but make noise.”
“When a woman reaches a certain point in her pregnancy, she has to go to a sound proof birthing facility where she will stay with her child for ten years, living in relative sound freedom while the kids are taught sign language and warned of the dangers of sound. This way, the father role can be assumed completely by the government.”
“How about pets? Do people have pets?”
“Sure, but they have to get them from government-approved pet shops after their vocal cords have been removed.”
“What about their claws on wood floors?” she would ask. “Click, click, click.”
“Booties,” I would say.
Issue after issue, we thought about how to create a silent world. And I must say that I really believe that many of our ideas would work. They would require a tyrannical government, but that was okay because my story had that too.
And then fellow Weakling, Andrew Rogers, contacted Ann Byle, a writer at the time for the Grand Rapids Press and got us a story in the newspaper (read it here). Suddenly, it was more than just a private thing my writer’s group was doing. Now it was a real thing. It was something that told the world that I was a writer, not just someone who dabbled in stringing sentences together.
And then the actual weekend came.
It was my first attempt at writing something longer than a short story. I was already more attached to my characters than I realized, because by the end of the novel when some bad things happen, I felt like a monster forcing my characters to deal with the evils I had designed for them. It was the first time that I felt bad about being mean to a fictional person.
During the weekend, the Weaklings all stayed under one roof. We woke at odd hours to start writing, we ate when someone was appointed to cook, and we shouted out word counts and save reminders often enough to spur each other on to longer and better novels.
And when it was done, we all had first drafts. They were terrible first drafts, but I remember thinking at the time that any of us could have won the contest. It wasn’t too far out there that one of us had written something amazing.
We’ve done the contest every year since.
Except for this year. This year, we are all taking a break from new novels. This year, we are honing our existing novels, prepping them for publication, and grooming our platforms.
But next year, we will all be famous published authors, and, if our book tours permit us, we will hole ourselves up again for another 3-day Novel Contest.
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Check out the other Weaklings’ blogs below for their 3-day Novel Memories.
For all the times I’ve mentioned “3-day Novel” on my blog, click here.