3 Things I Learned from #3DNC

I didn’t quite finish my 3-Day novel (more on that later), but I definitely learned a lot about the fiction writing process. Here are the highlights:

1. Start With a Simple Genre
Organizing would have been way easier had I not tried to write the mermaid equivalent of Lord of the Rings. If I had it to do over, I would write a chick lit novel, rather than dabbling in sci-fi/fantasy. Fabricating a believable mythology, and then making sure my narrative stayed consistent with it, was definitely beyond the scope of this first-time, 3-Day novel writer.

2. A Good Organization Strategy is Essential…
And you need to have it in place BEFORE you start writing. It was really hard to find a balance between getting a solid structure and putting too many details in my outline. I ended up including WAY too many of my research notes, character bios, timeline and bits of clever dialogue in my outline. Next time I will definitely explore mind-mapping software and online tools to organize my information more effectively; categorize and tag content; and ideally, make it all searchable. Even if I opt for a low-tech approach, I will definitely create multiple, separate outlines. Admittedly, all this would be far easier were I had chosen an less complex genre.

3. Don’t Edit While You Write
Whether I’m writing an article or marketing copy, my habit of editing-while-writing always slows me down. Not that big a deal when I’m writing a blog post; big problem while attempting to write a substantial piece of fiction. I spent so much time on details like word choice and sytax, that I kept losing my place in the larger narrative.

All in all, the 3-Day Novel Writing Contest was sufficiently positive that I’m considering doing NaNoWriMo this November. A month is going to feel positively luxurious after 3DNC. I’ll keep you posted…

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from other novelists. What do you wish you’d done differently your first time?

Photo by Diana Thorold

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11 comments on “3 Things I Learned from #3DNC
  1. tamarapaulin says:

    Hi Ruth! Your epic mermaid novel sounds fun, and its too bad you didn’t get to “the end” but I hope you have a good start at least. I love how everyone’s already planning strategies for next year.

    To stop myself from editing as I write, I typically handwrite my novels. To simulate this experience, I made my font 36 points huge, so that only a sentence or two would be visible on the screen at any time. I don’t know if this helped, but I’m confident it must have. I barely edited. (As I could see when I reduced font and glanced back over it in the final hours!)

    I linked to your article and some others from my blog post today. It was cool writing alongside you and everyone else on twitter!

    • Ruth Terry says:

      I saw that on your blog! Honestly, this might be the way to go. I think I strained my write hand using my MacBook so much. At least if I got carpal (sp?) tunnel from handwriting, doing my “day job” on my laptop probably wouldn’t be so painful! I actually purchased MacSpeech voice recognition software a while back to help me with interviewing sources for articles. I’m finding it really hard to “train” to my voice, but if/when I can do that, I’m planning on dictating my next novel.

  2. Kay at Blue Speckled Pup says:

    This was my third 3-Day Novel Contest, and it truly gets much easier each year. I agree with your point about simplicity, because there simply isn’t enough time to flesh out something elaborate. I also wrote in chronological order this time instead of building scenes separately and struggling to mash them together at the end.

    I rarely make notes or outlines, so it’s just me and the laptop for three days. My 3-Day approach is to just rock the thing out, and it works for me. This year, I had absolutely nothing on paper when I started, and it was my most successful attempt.

    I’m glad you had a good 3-Day experience: it’s truly one of a kind. Good luck with NaNoWriMo!

    • Ruth Terry says:

      Hi Kay, You are SO RIGHT—no time to create an alternate magical world! As Tolkien said about LOTR, “the story grew in the telling”. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. syaffolee says:

    This was probably my third or fourth time doing the 3-Day Novel Contest. The first time I did it, I just wanted to see if I could write that much in three days. For me, every time is a learning experience because every story is different. Sometimes they seem to just flow. Other times it’s like dragging a stubborn bull out of the pen. Outlining and being excited about the plot, though, does seem to help.

    • Ruth Terry says:

      After the initial plot points, the outline actually started to read like one for a movie script or play synopsis, in scenes. Discovered the effectiveness of this strategy a little too late in the game, but I think I’d like to try this “storyboard” kind of approach again. It seemed to keep my characters from doing their own thing and there was a nice sense of completion after finishing a scene.

  4. Elena Jacob says:

    I did the same thing you did – my mum and I co-authored an epic fantasy with magic and lore, which had it’s own complex history. We also had about five different story lines happening along with the primary story, some from the past and some happening at the same time as the “present tense” events. It made for a far more stressful experience than it needed to be, though I loved ever second of it!

    This was also my first 3DNC and I had such a blast. I’m really glad my mother and I chose to co-author it; having her working with me made it so much easier, and I fully credit that as being the reason why we were able to write 32,600+ words in three days.

    I really enjoyed this and I can’t wait for the next one (I think I’m going to take another stab at it on the weekend of the 17th, just for the heck of it :D) – I’ll also be doing Nanowrimo for the first time this year. Well, sort of the first time…but that’s a different story :)

    Thanks for sharing, and congratulations on making it out alive!! :D

    • Ruth Terry says:

      Hi Elena,

      I love this idea! It would have been really nice to have a second pair of eyes to keep all my storylines straight. I also considered crowd-sourcing ideas through social media. Kind of like improv, where they solicit ideas from the audience and then make a play out of it? Maybe I’ll try this approach for NaNoWriMo… I haven’t officially decided to enter, may be out of town working on a client project, but I’d love to hear how that goes. Michelle Rafter is holding a mini-blogathon in November, too, which I definitely plan to participate in. I did the last one and it was A BLAST. Maybe there’s a way to do both at once? Keep in touch and thanks for posting!

  5. This was my first “official” entry in the 3-Day Novel Contest, although I had written one “unofficially” (i.e. without mailing in the entry fee) in 2009, so I had a bit of an idea what I was in for this time. One of my friends sent me a great article on how to write a novel in 3 days, using a particular method invented by a prolific genre fiction writer named Lester Dent, and using that was a big help! I wrote a pretty detailed outline for this year’s novel, and stuck more to a quest concept than my previous attempt (which was trying too hard to be literary, and thus went more slowly and had less plot).

    I think the only thing I’d really do differently if I had to do it all over again is let my husband read through the manuscript before sending it in. I wasn’t sure if this would be considered cheating, since we had until Friday to submit our documents, but I just didn’t want to get sucked into the editing process.

    • Ruth Terry says:

      Hi Laura, I think you can collaborate with a second author, so I’m sure having your husband read it was totally OK :) Is there a link you post with info on Lester Dent? I’d love to find out more about this…

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I'm a smart, sassy, globally-mobile freelance writer, content creator, brand journalist and nonprofit storyteller. The world is my office. Email me to find out more.
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