Sunday, September 02, 2007

Three Day Novel Update Number 4. CENTENNIAL POST! EXTRA EXTRA!

Forty six hours in, 48 pages done. On pace for a 75 page novel. I kinda slacked a bit today, and for that I will pay come crunch time. But right now, I can't concentrate.

This is my 100th post! YAY! Please click here to see my web hero on his 100th post.

And also, because it's about that time to remind myself how lucky I am that I prepared for this contest, I will share with you the wisdom I attained in 2004. It's like a Tuesday Excerpt, but on a Sunday night!

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How to Write a Three Day Novel (from February/March 2006)

Start in grade school, writing short stories based on Star Trek. In middle school, your writing begins to take on a distinct style, which is unfortunately Douglas Adams’ and not yours. By high school, you’ve gotten that out of your system and instead have started putting drugs into your system. Lose your virginity to somebody who subsequently cheats on you on your seventeenth birthday. Journal about this obsessively until three years later, at journalism school in Minneapolis, when you meet a girl named Kathy from Nebraska. Stop smoking marijuana and decide that writers are drinkers.

Become a starving artist, so nobody can ever understand you. Abandon your obligations to attend class by staying at home writing short stories. You don’t want to be a journalist, anyway, or fall in love with Kathy because she’s too responsible to let you become your generation’s Jack Kerouac. You absolutely love her for this and so fall in love. Also, she doesn’t condone your drinking habits so you decide to cut back. Silently admit that, misunderstood starving artist that you are, Kathy understands you and keeps you well fed.

After four months together, propose. This happens after a bout of Mono which forced you to drop out of school. Move back home, but drive up to Minnesota once a month to visit, or else she’ll drive to Missouri to see you. Plan your wedding via phone. You attend a school you swore you never would simply because of its geographical proximity to your high school. Work at your grocery store job as much as you can; you’ve got a future to plan for now. Start apartment hunting.

You turn twenty-one. Now you can drink and enroll in your employee 401(k). You have no idea what it’s for, but Kathy tells you it’s a good idea. Consider this; it makes your paycheck smaller.

Your wedding is in South Dakota, in a quaint church that didn’t cost a dime to use; honeymoon without taking pictures at crucial moments. This is okay, because you are young and in love. You run into your parents in the Badlands, and as you discuss the wedding and the trip, reflect: you didn’t know your parents would be here, but it’s nice to see them; they hated the idea of this wedding until they met Kathy; they obviously trust her and like her more than they do you.

Move into an apartment that is just big enough for you, Kathy and all of your stuff. This is important, because it gets the ball rolling on finding your next place to live the moment you buy a bookshelf, which will happen after you’ve unpacked your books and found you have nowhere to put them.

You haven’t been writing much, because what with school and then the wedding, you haven’t had the time. But, your general education requirements are out of the way, and before plunging into your creative writing certificate, treat yourself to a challenge. Labor Day Weekend is on the way, which can only mean it’s time for the Three Day Novel Contest.

Friday, prepare yourself. Unplug the phone, buy a case of beer and a bottle of good whiskey. Check the chat room; everybody is talking about how they’ve been writing at least ten pages a day all summer. One says she has been brainstorming and mapping her novel for two weeks. Type in the following line: “I’ve been letting it build for the past month. I haven’t written anything. It will all burst out tonight.”

You are met with the internet chat room equivalent of silence. Finally, somebody from Quebec asks if this is your first Three Day Novel contest. Yes, you tell them.

“Good luck. You’re going to need it.”

Mix yourself a stiff drink at 11:45. Kiss Kathy goodnight; she’s going shopping early with your sister to give you some space.

Stare at a blank screen for six hours.

Start, stop and start and stop. Repeat as necessary before falling asleep on the couch. Dream that you’ve missed the deadline.

Write nine pages about how to write a three day novel. Stop at page nine and tell yourself not to give advice about something you’ve never done.

Watch a movie. Start writing a story about people watching a movie. It’s derivative; their dialogue is lifted from the movie they’re watching, which is the movie you just watched. Let this nag at you, but only a little bit.

Your main character is one of your stock characters; you wrote a play about him in high school. His friends in the story are friends from another story he’s in. Chronologically, this is after the play, but before the movie script you wrote last year just for fun. You think, briefly, that you should do an anthology instead of a contiguous novel. But no, the rules are clear. All writing must be done between 12:01 am Saturday and 11:59 pm Monday.

You have seven pages, and you’re stuck. Take a nap, sleep off the whiskey. It’s almost one o’clock, Saturday afternoon. Before you lie down, you check the chat room. It’s empty.

Wake up, because your friend Jerry has stopped by. You’re self conscious; you smell bad, you’re still drunk, you know that you’ve got the world’s worst case of bed-head. You feel like you’ve only slept twenty minutes, but the clock tells you it’s been a solid half hour. He asks if you want to get some food, but your responsibility as a writer says no.

With Jerry dismissed and a glass of water at hand, plunge back in. Page seven. You’re stuck. Grab another movie at random, telling yourself it’s a bad idea. Incorporate this movie into your novel as well. It’s a bad idea, you think but it’s all I’ve got. Think of nights wasted watching reruns, the Olympics, these very movies; how many pages could I have turned out? It would have at least gotten ideas flowing.

Do the unthinkable and leave the apartment. Take a walk with your wife. Your head is spinning because, after the glass of water (and the movie), you had two beers. Also, it’s nearly nine in the evening and you’ve only written fifteen pages. Checking the chat room before the walk proved you were a good sixty pages behind some of the more seasoned veteran contestants. Other Greenhorns like yourself had doubled your efforts and were less than satisfied, which makes you feel significantly less than satisfied.

Mumble, “I’ve got to get back to work.” Your characters are lost, and you have nothing with which to bring them back, so you make them watch another movie, this one about writing. You are writing a novel about people watching a movie about a person writing a novel. This gets you six more pages than you had. Think back to your eleventh grade history paper; that was more than quadruple the length asked for. Ask yourself, “what happened to the guy who wrote that one?” Consider that question on a more existential level; where have you gone? This transfers to your protagonist. He is asking, “where have I gone?” Now he’s depressed. Congratulations, you’ve introduced conflict. And what’s more, check back to find that you alluded to this event at the top of page two. Celebrate by canonballing a shot of whiskey into your beer.

Wake up disoriented. It’s Sunday afternoon. Your wife asks you kindly if you’ll take a shower and brush your teeth, then asks if she can get you something from Taco Bell. Your stomach churns and your mind reels because you haven’t eaten anything besides microwave chicken nuggets and popcorn since Friday night. Decline the food, citing whiskey interference. Make toast and resolve to stay away from alcohol.

After the shower, pledge to plunge ahead. No distractions, no drinks. No more movies.

Find a distinct gay vibe between your protagonist and another character. Worry about this and pour yourself a shot. Surely I didn’t do that on purpose you say to yourself. Take an hour to read select passages. With each passage, make sure your eyes widen with fear. It helps if sweat stands out on your brow. Let it pool on your desk before taking another shot (or three) and open a fresh document. It’s four thirty. Thirty-one and a half hours until the deadline. You know you can’t start from scratch.

Put on a tea kettle and spend a few minutes picking out the right tea. When the water boils, just pick Chai Spice tea because it’s the easiest teabag to get to. Throw the bag in the bottom of the cup and pour the water from the kettle over it.

Forget to turn the stove off, and set the kettle back on the burner with the spout open.

Smell something burning and turn off the stove. Resist the instinct to grab the tea kettle because it will be hot. When you do burn yourself, apply aloe. After the application of aloe, your tea should be steeped past drinkability because you forgot it after you poured the cup.

Drink the tea anyway and write in another movie.

On Monday afternoon, send your wife to Starbucks so you don’t screw up making coffee. She complained all night that you were keeping her up with the keyboard clacking and the printer running. Tell her that it’s all in the name of revision. This is a lie; you don’t have time for revision because you still haven’t finished the novel.

Your characters are hopelessly lost now, spread across the country and unable to resolve their particular crises. As their creator, you do not have good news for them; you are at much more of a loss than they could be, as they are fictional and your dilemma is very real. Three characters have been dropped from site. One character is in Moab, Utah, stalled on his cross-country road trip. He rides his bike up and down a mountain. Go back to the beginning of the story and put in a reference to his bicycle. Flip forward twenty pages and throw in a scene where he rides his bike with friends. Now the mountain makes more sense.

Hit the print button and hand the pages to your wife. “I’m getting a gay vibe between William and Chaise,” she says. You give them each a girlfriend.

It’s eleven o’clock, Monday night, and you have seventy-four pages, double-spaced with one inch margins. Your last chat room check in the early evening revealed many others had doubled or tripled your efforts. Read the last paragraph and do a drastic edit to make sure it does not end weakly. Return to the first page and do the same for the opening; if it begins weak, the judges will certainly hate it. If it begins and ends strong, they may forgive any awful passages that you may have slipped in here and there. Print it.

Put more thought into your biography and thank you letter than you did into the entire story; three straight days of writing has jumpstarted your creativity! The letter is alternately scathing and hilarious. The legal-looking document you type for your wife to sign as witness is full of wit. Wake her to have her sign it. Do not get upset when she does not laugh, because she will also mumble something along the lines of “Acrodyl is on the cow’s second backside stomach,” which is just incoherent sleep-talk. Just make sure the name she sleep-signs is her own and put it all into an envelope, all seventy-seven pages, and address it. You’ll wish the post office was open late, like on Tax Day, because you’ll want to mail it before you change your mind. Do this first thing Tuesday.

Do not return to your novel. When the winners are announced in January and you are not among the finalists or even the honorable mentions, turn your nose up at the contest forever and sit down to re-read your novel.

With each twinge, with each gut-wrenching moment, and with each craving to crawl into your wife’s arms and lament that sad, pathetic youthful inexperienced writer you left back in September, know that next year you will be better prepared.

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And there you have it.

Most editors are failed writers - but so are most writers. -T.S. Eliot

1 comment:

Becca said...

Jesus, I take a few days off to drink copious amounts of Jag, be ridiculously hung over and sick, then spent the next 20 hours furiously working on my coursework (vainly attempting to make it look more than 20 hours of work - can you bottle up all those excessive writing skills and ship them over here for me??? I need some writing energy). And I don't check your blog because I'm all like - Elliot is too busy writing his 3 day novel to possibly blog. And I come back to the Blogniverse and I'm 3 posts behind!!!

Ah, the joys of procrastination and internet distraction at it's finest.