Debriefing the 3-Day Novel Contest

The Best $50 I Ever Threw Away

I failed. That’s the short story of my attempt to write a long story. Not only did I fail to write a winning novel, after paying my $50, I didn’t even submit what I had written. Here’s why I still consider the weekend to be a huge success.

Like many self-proclaimed “writers” that I know, I have a hard time writing unless I feel I am… how do I put this?… allowed to. What this means is that you have to let yourself feel okay about spending large amounts of effort doing something that is, by most estimations, entirely worthless, and practically indistinguishable from wasting time. One friend holed up in Montreal for two months, and told me about how he spent the first week or so telling himself that he had permission to write; his brain kept chiding him that he was crazy to think his thoughts were deserving of record, and that his ideas were small and had no value.

I think this is the difference between writers and wannabes. I did my best writing when I was in a university writing course, and I was forced to spend hours on my work. I had to write. Of course it makes sense: you spend the time, you get the result. For me, unless there is someone with a legitimate claim on my results, someone who expects and cares about the outcome, I can’t rationalize spending hours crafting prose when I could be completing other tasks with predictable, worthwhile outcomes. Like cleaning the bathroom.

In Stephen’s King’s book “On Writing,” he warns that if you’re not driven to write all the time, if you don’t need to write, you should avoid writing as a career. But I suspect that the need was sapped from me (or perhaps I let it leak) when I let my commercial options lead me, instead of pursuing what actually interested me.

I only mention this because last weekend made me need again. Sure, I didn’t write what I consider a finished novel. What I did was live a reasonable life, late mornings, with dinner and party visits, and long, satisfying stretches of writing at other times. I produced one hundred pages of fiction, with a plot that I like, but with a need for lots of character development and rewriting.

Let me say that again: I wrote one hundred pages of fiction. In three days. And I wasn’t exhausted and manic. Maybe if I’d gotten up early and avoided all outside contact I could have gotten finished. Who knows. I don’t care. What I care about is that at that comfortable rate, I could easily write four hundred pages in three weeks. Then, I could take a couple weeks off, relax, and return for another two weeks of editing.

So for $50, I discovered that writing a novel fits easily into my next summer vacation.

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