And on the third day…

Kevin Hehir has turned off the coffee pot and broken out the yogurt ‘cause it’s time for the International 3-day Novel Contest (Illustration by Jonathan Adams)

This Labour Day week-end is the 29th running of the 3-Day Novel Contest. From midnight Friday to midnight Monday writers are challenged to sit down and attempt to complete a novel using, according to their website, “any method, and in any location, anywhere in the world”. They do allow you to have some notes but all the actual writing must occur between the parentheses of those 72 hours.

You may think that staying alert is the prime task when doing this sort of thing. So, I’ll just lay down a couple of suggestions I learned from working nights at a grocery store stocking shelves. The head of the night crew was known as Pharmacy Frank. He probably didn’t have his grade ten but he could regulate uppers and downers as well as any Tour de France team doctor. He also counseled me to avoid using coffee and cigarettes as stimulants. THEY WILL ROT YOUR GUT LIKE BIKER ACID! Fruit juice and yogurt are much easier on the system so save the other stuff for the bender you go on after 72 hours of writing.

To make a literary connection, the company I worked for was made famous in John Updike’s story “A & P”. That may seem like a bit of a dodgy segue but dodgy segues will become your best friend if you want to avoid writer’s block. That is your main task really. You must keep that white screen from rolling out of your monitor and snowballing you out of your chair. You only have 72 hours remember. French novelist Stendhal suggests that one way to overcome writers’ block is to write “twenty lines a day, genius or not”. American writer Harry Mathews used this method to overcome his own block when he composed his fantastic novel 20 Lines a Day. Since you only have three days and will certainly want to produce more that a three page novel you might want to accelerate the process and set a goal of 20 lines an hour. This is reasonable and ensures a submission of decent heft.

I also imagine there are those of you who really have no idea what they are going to write about but just want to try it because it is there to be tried. Very well then, I would suggest Googling the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church. There, you will find Bernadette Mayer’s legendary list of Writing Experiments. Two of my favourites are, “write a work that intersperses love with landlords” and this exercise in style: Write twenty-five or more different versions of one event.  If these don’t help then you will have to adjust your medication (see note on pharmaceuticals above).

Good luck.

If you are interested in participating this year, you’d better hurry. Registration forms must be postmarked by Friday (September 1). Entry fee is $50; The winner gets a publishing contract. The writing begins at midnight Friday. For more information, visit

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