The Labour Day weekend for many signifies the end of summer. Parents labouring under the servitude of vacationing children look forward to ten months of respite. University and college bound students anticipate their first day of classes and the demise of their savings with expenses for tuition and books. There may be some part-time Athabasca students, such as myself, whose school year never ends. Part-time scholars have different challenges to face when the holiday weekend arrives, but for me it’s a reminder to catch up on the assignments left dangling through July and August. However, this year was different. Instead of spending three leisurely days at my sister’s cottage with my laptop, I wrote a novel.
The 3 Day Novel Contest is in its 29th season. The ostensible goal is to finish in first place and win a publishing contract or, failing that, a cash prize. Yet, I discovered the true prize is typing “end” on the last page of the manuscript following 72 hours of story frenzy.
The rules are straightforward. The writer has from 12.01 p.m. Saturday, September 2 until 12.00 p.m. Monday, September 4 to write a complete novel. A plot outline and character biographies are permitted, but no “In the beginning:” can have begun. In other words, no sentences can be pre-written. Awkward wordings and poor syntax are expected and to be corrected before publication. No author, I know, will allow the equivalent of a first draft to be published. Following the end of the allotted time, the manuscript is forwarded to contest headquarters where a team of experienced judges read the submissions. The honour system prevails. But just in case, I’m told the panel can spot the cheaters. In the past, there have been attempts to fool the experts.
I sat before my computer at 1.00 a.m. on Saturday morning, reviewed my notes, and attacked the keyboard. Six hours later, my spouse placed a platter of fruit and bread by my elbow, looked over my shoulder for a moment and quietly withdrew. Calculating my rate of productivity, I estimated six hours for sleep and no leisure activities.
On Monday morning, I faced a dilemma. My carefully constructed plot resolution wouldn’t work. Taking pen and paper out onto the porch, I sketched out three solutions, but they were obvious contrivances. I examined my main protagonist Jim. He must die, I decided. I returned to the keyboard and murdered him. Then a strange thing happened. I began to weep for the Kathleen he was leaving behind.
The “end” fell at 9.00 p.m. Monday evening. I ran downstairs, threw wide my arms and exclaimed, “I did it!” The novel was finished and I packaged my 29,000 words, 114 pages, fifteen chapters, epilogue, and title page and placed the bundle on the hallway table ready to be mailed in the morning. I am a winner!
I survived the following: three days on five hours sleep, eyes that refused to focus, fingers that typed “Jim” as “miJ” and other assorted expressions of brain fatigue, drank enough espresso to turn my skin yellow, sat three days in the same chair without washing my body or brushing my teeth, spoke no words to another human being except “thanks” to my spouse and left my study room only once. Sleep seemed impossible, I was too exhilarated, but I crashed for ten hours and awoke depressed. After rereading the critical scenes (no revisions allowed), with great sorrow, I wished my friends adieu. I miss them, because they “Are Too Precious to be Forgotten.”