There comes a time, when the inspiration runs dry and nothing seems to be happening to get the words out on the page, when you realize that only a drastic measure will get things moving and keep you on the path of writing. Some people take the nuclear option and get rid of everything they’ve been writing, others shove it in a drawer for a while and move on to something else, hoping that inspiration will come back later and they’ll be able to start again with fresh eyes. I’ve found a new strategy that seems to be doing the trick; do something drastic. Like, say, write a whole novel in three days.
Not to shill for any one particular challenge, but the Three-Day Novel contest is a particularly fine example of the literary marathons that have been proliferating in the past several years. Most people are familiar with National Novel Writing Month, running since 1999 and in which participants commit to writing a novel of at least fifty-thousand words through the month of November. This contest is much less well known, but has actually been going on longer; it began in 1977 with a handful of people, and has now expanded to accept hundreds of entries a year. I did it before, two years ago; I produced a Very Literary Work that didn’t make the shortlist and in retrospect probably had very little to distinguish it from what I’m sure were a hundred other Very Literary Works, all earnestness and messages. This year, in a bit of a writing rut, I am trying again, and trying to write something truer to my voice, along my fantasy roots. We’ll see if it works. I will be holed up for the Labour Day weekend writing, and perhaps the next time I post I will have some update on how it went.
The reason I bring this up is that it seems like a perfect idea to strike a spark in the act of writing, some big ridiculous gesture that will have at its end a product that I hope will win the contest and be published. But in the end, such writing contests are about more than that. They are a way to impose a deadline , a defined end by which the act of writing has to be completed. I am the sort of person who has difficulty without a limit, as the lack of a certain amount of anxiety seems to keep me from doing what it is I set out to do. Many others will say the same, that the limit of as writing contest can be just what’s needed to kick-start a frustrating stall in the writing process.
I’d be interested to hear what others think about the use of writing contests as a way to get things moving. Is it a technique you’ve used in the past? Has it worked? In the meantime, I will post an update once the Labour Day Weekend has passed to let people know how it’s gone.