I was a late 80’s baby and a 90’s kid, so some of my childhood was computer-free. I spent my time playing in dirt, playing Super Nintendo, riding my bicycle, and (not to be redundant) listening to Queen.
I wrote an on-going story in a notebook. It was called Dog Vader, and it was about this teenage boy who turned into a dog to fight evildoers with his other dog-morphing friends. It was a reactionary story. Jaws was never my scene and I don’t like Star Wars, so I took the moniker of a certain Lucas villain, riffed on it in my ignorant, childish way, and made a story I could appreciate.
I had also been watching a lot of Sailor Moon at the time.
The first notebook I used was very thin, and robin’s egg blue. I drew Dog Vader on the cover with a Sharpie: a disembodied dog-head with his whole eyeballs shaded black (He had a body. I just couldn’t draw one.). When I filled that notebook, I wrote a sequel. This was in a much thicker two- or three-subject notebook, hunter green. Then, for the finale of the trilogy I graduated myself to a three-ring binder and just kept putting more sheets in there until the story was done. By the end, I even had my best friend in on it, writing pieces and integrating her own characters and illustrations. The binder was fuzzy, and pale like faded jeans.
I remember these details because I spent a lot of time with those notebooks. I used to listen to Now 4 over and over while I wrote, because somehow All the Small Things (Blink 182) and Larger than Life (Backstreet Boys) and This Time Around (Hanson) had become integral to the story, like a soundtrack—like theme music. And no, I did not just look up what was on the Now 4 CD. You can, though; I know I’m right.
When my family got a computer for the house, it was—as it was for many—mostly to get access to the Internet. The benefits for kids were many and varied, with whole new vistas of pretend possibilities (via AOL chat rooms), socializing (AIM), gaming (Neopets, anyone? Anyone?), and the transformative first-time encounter with porn.
I spent hours and hours in our basement-turned-family room, on our new computer. My mom would come down sometimes to switch the laundry. One day she asked me what I was up to—not in a suspicious way, but just trying to relate to me, catch up on my very important kid concerns, etcetera.
I said, “I’m writing.” She looked over, and sure enough I had Microsoft Word open, I was on page one hundred and something, and there were paragraphs and passages of dialogue and chapter breaks.
I didn’t think it was weird. She probably did.
I wrote an entire novel in that basement, and I have always regretted its disappearance. Somewhere in the middle of a move, the purchase of a dog, and several surgeries (mine), the document was lost forever. It was called “The World I Created,” and it was full of people named things like Blade and Mrs. Strawberry, but it was a real story. It wasn’t perfect—of course not, I was a little kid and I’d never written anything that long before. But it was complete. I finished it, you know? It began. It changed. And then it ended.
I never really stopped writing for pleasure after that, but neither did I finish anything I wrote. I had another story in my head—I have lots of stories in my head—but it was hard to get it out. You can’t use all the peanut butter in the jar. You scrape out as much as you can, but you never, ever get it all. You just buy a new jar of peanut butter and start using that. Writing was like that for me.
I apologize. I’m still sleep-deprived from writing a novel in three days. And I’m getting to that. Let’s just go a little further down memory lane first.
High school came, and I made a couple more friends. Also important, I saw two very different, very awesome films. One was The Rocky Horror Picture Show (actually, I saw this much earlier, in 6th or 7th grade) and Pirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl. I immediately determined, as anyone would, that if any two characters were ever meant to team up to face the world together, it was Dr. Frank N. Furter and Captain Jack Sparrow. They both consider themselves the center of the universe, they both have questionable morals, they both swing both ways (Don’t deny it.), and they both wear eyeliner. It was just waiting to happen.
All it required was a little time warp.
So began a journey of 1,300+ pages (and that’s in Word, so for some real perspective you can double that number for actual book pages) that went on for years and years. I took Frank and Jack through their first adventure solo, and along the way found a wonderful person who shared my sweet, sexy vision in Missy, the writer of this fan-fiction about Frank N. Furter. I loved her stories, and she (I like to think) loved mine. Our writing became, if not a strict collaboration, an extension of a deep and real friendship that lives on into the present-day. The story about Frank and Jack became known between us simply as “the saga.”
Frank and Jack went through everything together, from love and lust to adventure and boredom. They were a team sometimes, and enemies others. Missy made it into the story to create a polyamorous relationship between the three of them. Bootstrap Bill appeared (in a way that made much more sense than how Disney later did it, but that is my little, 1st-Amendment-protected opinion). Transsexual, Transylvania came up (and here I borrowed from Missy’s original fan-fiction about Frank), and the duo traveled through time and space to meet Frank’s old destiny and see where it led them. You even learn what the N in Frank’s name stands for (according to me), for goodness’ sake.
Missy wrote stories about them that fit into my universe. Then, as she changed things, I got excited and wrote off-shoots of her off-shoots. It was this thing that was always expanding, in every direction, with both of us simultaneously writing alternate versions of the same stories. It was endlessly interesting. Or, it was to us. And now we’re almost to my 3-Day Novel experience. Almost.
I remember “the saga” being the first thought I’d have in the morning: the saga, and Missy—always together. I couldn’t wait to tell her about the idea I’d had, or to hear more after the cliff-hanger she’d left me with on her end, to get out of classes so that we could talk. So that we could write. From the moment I got home I’d be on AIM, and if she wasn’t on already she soon would be. We’d talk and laugh and write and trade paragraphs, and suddenly it would be two in the morning.
It was wonderful. It was idyllic. We had created a world for ourselves—for each other—and we were happy there. Everyone else could wait. We were off with the pirates and the transvestite aliens, on the tossing ships in the tropical weather.
And we were silly, too. I made it into my story as a narrator who rode an emu-penguin (Whether this creature was more emu or penguin, I left up to the reader.), and choreographed dances for Mr. Cotton’s parrot to perform. Our inside jokes snuck into the narrative. We were random, bizarre, and we were so, so entertained by ourselves. It was indulgent, perhaps even egotistical.
We didn’t care if it didn’t all make sense. We didn’t care if anyone could follow it but us. We never worried about causing offense. We liked it, so we did it. The sex was gratuitous, the humor was slapstick, the jokes went on and on and on until they were as dead as a parrot pining for the Fjords, and we courted deus ex machina like it was the prom queen of literary devices (instead of the Carrie—after the pig’s blood). As Eric Cartman might have said, but didn’t: it’s my story, I’ll do what I want!
And now, now, I’m ready to talk about the 3-Day Novel Contest.
It is what it sounds like. You write a novel in three days. You can plan an outline, but all of the actual writing must take place between 12:01 a.m. on the Saturday, and 11:59 p.m. on the Monday, of Labor Day weekend. I wanted to try it for a few reasons, the first of which sounds super boring and adult: I wanted to do it as a writing exercise, for the serious author inside me. Fine, but that’s not fun. What about my other reason?
I was missing that finals week experience, because I am a certified nerd. You know the part, when you eat junk (if you eat at all), drink a lot of caffeine, and just park your procrastinating butt in front of your laptop/books/notes for several days? I got a kick out of that. This would be like that, I thought.
The first night of the contest, I started at 12:01 like a crazy person instead of sleeping through until morning. I wrote until dawn (It actually startled me that there was light outside my window. I jumped.), and went to bed having already slapped down thousands of words. It wasn’t to be like finals, though. It was like writing the saga.
As the contest went on, I realized that it was hard. Day one had been like sitting down to write any other time, where I was very conscious of creating a full vision of a scene, of using my tools from my mental toolbox (thinking, here, in Stephen King-isms) to be clever and make the reader forget that they are reading. I just did it for much, much longer than I usually do.
The next day, my butt hurt and my knees hurt, I was sweaty, I was exhausted, and I wanted to do anything else but write. But I couldn’t. I paid $50 to compete in this thing; I couldn’t give up. I realized that if I was going to get through this—if I was going to finish a whole story in a matter of 72 hours—I needed to be having more fun than I was having. It would take more than crushing my doubts about my writing (which will block anybody). I would have to pretend no one was going to read this. At all. If I was going to have fun, I was going to have to go on a journey tailor-made for my very singular tastes. This wasn’t about “the reader,” this was about me.
Otherwise it was never, ever going to happen.
33,000 words later, I had a complete book. Sometimes scenes were too brief, but they always did what they were supposed to do. The plot points got covered in logical and engaging ways. There was some humor that I probably wouldn’t have ventured to express in any other writing situation—but, at 3:30 in the morning, I needed the laugh. And it was a good one, from my belly, that made me excited to share the moment with somebody. It is, of course, about original characters and NOT a fan-fiction, and there’s no gratuitous gay sex in there, but it’s definitely a story for me before anybody else.
But you know what? Reading it over now, being better rested and having a firmer grasp on reality once more, it’s a good story. And I wrote it in three days! It needs fleshing out, and some parts are rough, but it’s good. It’s entertaining, moving, and meaningful. The funny parts work. Best of all? It’s complete. I finished it.
It began. It changed. And then it ended.
So, here’s what I took away from the 3-Day Novel Contest: write for yourself. Of course I understand the urge to be published. I send out stories all the time. I feel like I’m wasting time if any of my pieces are not currently out for consideration by some journal or anthology. But, then again, I have yet to have anything be accepted. I got an Honorable Mention in a contest once, but that’s it so far. And all that rejection can get abrasive to the spirit.
So don’t forget to write for yourself, too. You’ll feel less doubt, and when you find your choices work it will make you courageous in your other writing. It’ll go faster, which will satisfy your need to finish something when you just can’t get all the damn peanut butter out of the jar. You’ll make yourself laugh, and you won’t have to erase it. You can share it with somebody, instead. Maybe, if you’re really lucky, you can even make a best friend in the world you have created.