When my wife and I had been married about a year, I gave her 100 red roses.
Now let me tell you the problem with that – there is nowhere to go from there except down. I could bring her 100 roses again, but it’s anticlimactic. I could bring her 200 roses, but that’s just getting crazy and gaudy. And anything less is, well, less. I peaked early. I was the Orson Wells of roses. Rosebud.
I like trumping what I have done previously. I don’t care much about competing or outdoing others, but I like to set a new, personal best for myself. It demonstrates a measure of growth and just makes me feel good when I do something I have never done before.
So, last year I did NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month, where entrants attempt to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days in November. I did it, along with my partner in madness, Twana Biram, who also completed more than 50k words in 30 days. Yay, us.
Was NaNoWriMo my 100 roses of writing challenges? Lo and behold… the 3 Day Novel Contest! Over a 3-day weekend during Labor Day, the challenge is to write a complete novel. 3 DAYS. 30 days suddenly seemed like a gluttonous luxury. I had to do it. It nearly killed me.
First, I got buy-in from my wife, Lynn. Without her support, I could never hope to make a real effort at this. She was cool about it and encouraged me to do it. It was only 3 days, after all. Not an entire month. I am eternally grateful to the way my wife supports me in my little flights of fancy. She is a truly magnificent woman and I love her madly. So, entry fee paid, I was in; I was going to do 3DN.
Since I was allowed to develop an outline ahead of time, I had put together exactly what I wanted to happen in my story. Then I evaluated it, sought input, redrafted it, redrafted it again and finally, decided it was too much story to do in 3 days, but I had to try.
Let me say that there is a temptation to cheat – to start early. 3DN uses the honor system, and honor just isn’t in demand like it once was. I’ve hold some parts of my soul in high regard, and this tested my resolution. I didn’t start until around 3AM CST on Saturday.
Day One went great. Very productive and while I knew I was writing lackluster content, I stuck to my outline and kept moving the story forward. It was glorious and decadent to know the last two paragraphs I wrote needed reworking, but just to continue on anyway. I reveled in it and stuck to my outline, nailing down around 18k words in day one. (Insert chest-thumping and Tarzan yell, here.)
Day Two was harder and I finished it with a total of about 33k words. Now, I was tired. I had put in over 30 hours at the keyboard and my hands actually hurt from typing so much. I took a break to watch a baseball game and that was it… back to my keyboard.
Day Three was the worst. I barely made 11k words that day, and as the deadline loomed a mere 3 hours away, I had two chapters left to write. Reviewing my final chapter now, it’s almost like a PowerPoint slide deck:
- · This happened
- · And then this happened
- · And then this and this
- · And when this happened, they did this
- · And they lived happily ever after, The End.
Far from my best writing, but I FINISHED THE FIRST DRAFT OF A 41k NOVEL IN THREE DAYS. (Insert chest-thumping and Tarzan yell, here.)
The following work week was hard because I was so tired and my head was so into the story I was working on, just doing real work was uninteresting. I finally recovered and found my groove, but it took a few days.
So, what did I learn?
1. Lynn loves me. I knew this already, but she brought me food at the computer, checked in to see how it was going and generally let me be for the entire time. I adore her for that and I’ve been trying to show her just how much. She’s got a nice smile going these days, so I think she gets it.
2. An Outline is absolutely necessary when writing a novel. It’s fine to pants it with a short story, which is far less complex and can still go anywhere you might imagine without it completely derailing everything else you’ve done. Even if a short story jumps the tracks and goes to Nowheresville, it’s only a short story. A novel needs a clear direction you are trying to go, motives for actions by the characters and must be cohesive. Outline, you are my new best friend, but I still will pants-it on my short stories, because it lets my brain out to play and go where it might imagine.
3. Contests like this are only excuses to go nuts. They don’t make you better or enable you to do anything you couldn’t do otherwise. It’s all a ruse, but it’s a ruse I leverage to trick myself into doing things I might not do without it.
4. It’s okay to bring home a simple bouquet of flowers from the grocery store, and Lynn always makes a fuss about it when I do. The “Can’t beat 100 roses” thing – that was all in my head, not hers.
And when it comes to demonstrating a measure of growth and feeling good about my accomplishments, they don’t always need to be something huge or extreme. They just need to be.
They just need to be.
© 2011, Mitch Lavender