Looking for something fun and worthwhile to do over the Labor Day weekend?

Why not write a book?

Would-be novelists have the chance to prove their mettle during the 31st Annual 3-Day novel writing contest sponsored by Book Television, a Canadian cable network and Geist, a literary magazine.

Although the sponsors are Canadian, the contest attracts writers from all over including many from the U.S.

Contest officials say getting ready to write a 3-day novel is like preparing for a marathon.

It’s lonely and difficult both spiritually and physically.

Entries must be original works, planned and executed during the 72-hour Labor Day holiday.

Contest officials created a Survival Guide to answer writers’ questions. The guide can be found on 3daynovel.com, and it answers some of the most common queries posed by would-be contestants.

Among the questions administrators try to answer are the obvious ones such as “How do you know I wrote (the novel) in three days?”

Contest administrators answer this question with an anecdote:

“In the early days of the contest this dilemma came up firsthand. Judges were suspicious when George Telford, a feisty senior from Nova Scotia, submitted his 1,000 page manuscript “Dreadful Things.” It was easily proven that no one could write a thousand pages in just three days and an angry Mr. Telford attempted to save some face by claiming to have misread the contest name, believing it to have said the 3-Year Novel Contest,” the Web site stated.

Judges say they have learned the average 3-Day Novel is between 90 and 150 pages long when completed.

Era High School teacher and writer Joe Weber said he thinks the idea of the contest is intriguing, but the execution might be another story.

“I’m fascinated by the concept of the 3-day novel, but I am concerned about how well the novel can be developed and written within that time frame,” he said. “It might be more of a rough draft than a completed manuscript.”

Weber said the finished product could end up being a novella, which isn’t a bad thing, either.

“There’s a market for that type of work,” he noted.

On the other hand, the contest could be a literary springboard and a useful tool for developing ideas and jump starting the writing process, he said.

Weber developed his creative writing program while teaching at a school in The Colony years ago.

He holds a master’s degree in English from the University of North Texas — earned simultaneously with his bachelor’s degree — and has logged 21 years as an English teacher.

The veteran writing instructor gives his potential students a brief assignment before letting them sign up for the class.

He asks them to describe an event such as a thunderstorm.

Those who use sensory images to describe the event are usually more successful in the class than those who rely on more literal, concrete images.

If the description turns out sounding like a weather forecast, the student might not do well in the class, he noted.

Weber said doesn’t like to turn away any student who wants to learn to write and said he believes almost anyone can acquire writing skills.

But not everyone can be a writer.

When they first begin learning creative writing, students tend to focus on action and plot.

Weber advises writers to create characters first.

“Think what that person would do, how they would act, what they would feel,” he said.

Good writers are also prolific readers.

“It doesn’t matter so much what you read. It’s that you read something,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s a comic book.”

Weber also said he can understand the desire to compete and to earn recognition for one’s work.

“I require my students to submit for publication, and I send in manuscripts along with the students. I don’t ask them to do anything I’m not willing to do myself,” he said.

Although Weber said he has no plans to enter the novel contest this year, a number of Texas writers are among the entrants each year.

Dallas-area resident Ed Lineberry said he’s competed in the 3-Day-Novel Contest three times.

For him, preparing an outline is essential.

“Each time I had a short outline. Last year's outline was just over two hand-written pages, maybe 300 words total. The first year I entered, my plot was more complex — and I was less confident — so I had a more detailed outline,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Lineberry said he places more weight on his plot at the beginning of the writing marathon.

“I try to start with characters I think are interesting, but I feel a lot better about characters, rather than plot, growing organically. That is, I feel like I can improvise on the characters, but if the plot gets out of control I won't have the time, energy, or concentration to find mistakes and correct them before my 72 hours are up,” he said.

Lineberry said his experience with the contest is “actually very nice.”

“I might work on a "real" novel for years. You can never let go. But with the 3-Day-Novel contest, you know that no matter what happens it will all be over soon. It's the difference between a cavity and braces: getting a cavity filled can ruin your day; orthodontia will be with you for years,” Lineberry said.

Entries in the contest are as varied as the novels on any best seller list.

His entry for last year’s contest was “Seedless Watermelon” a novel Lineberry described as a love triangle between two watermelon seed-spitting champions and a Marxist psychic.

He said he was pleased with his work.

Contest officials apparently agreed. “Seedless Watermelon” was named to their short list — a collection of top entries deemed worthy of a second look by the judges.

Lineberry admitted the 3-Day-Novel contest is not easy. The contest’s time constraints are definitely an impediment, he said. He also doesn’t advocate writing with recklessness.

“If you write with abandon, you might not have time to go back and fix something that's really bad. There's a temptation to write nice, safe, boring prose that will move the story along and not embarrass anyone. I know that I won't have a chance to do much editing. The looming deadline makes me want to take fewer risks. The challenge is to overcome that temptation and be spectacular and spontaneous and original all at once and without breaking anything. The reality is that once the hours start to tick away, you stop caring about quality. All I want to do is finish and end with something that resembles a logically complete story. My nightmare is to run out of time with three or four chapters left,” he said.

So far, it hasn’t happened.

Lineberry plans to enter the contest again this year.

He said completing the 72-hour event leaves him with a mixture of relief and exhaustion.

“Relief because it's over and ... a little surge of victory, but most of all, relief that I can stop thinking about the story. After being trapped with it in a lonely room for 72 hours, I just want to stuff it in an envelope and mail it to another country. It's usually months before I'll even look at it again.” he said.

The process also takes a toll on him physically.

“Usually, my forearms hurt,” he added.

Those who enter the 3-Day-Novel contest pay an entry fee. First prize is publication. Second is $500. Third prize is $100.

Contest officials say it’s okay to record the story that’s been banging around (unwritten) in your head for years. It is not okay to download a novel you’ve been plugging away at since high school.

To learn more about the 31st Annual 3-Day-Novel contest see www.3daynovel.com.

Reporter Delania Trigg may be

contacted at dtrigg@ntin.net

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