A Pep Talk for the 3 Day Novel Contest 2014

The 3 Day Novel Contest is not a marathon; it’s a sprint. It requires stamina, determination and vision.

The first time I participated in the 3 Day Novel writing competition, which is held every labour day weekend, I had a newborn on my lap and an outline in my hand. My husband was supportive and kept my three year old busy and delivered plates of yummy food to my desk at semi-regular intervals. I knew roughly where my story would take me, what characters would be major players, and my approximate plot arc. The rest of the details were filled in as I wrote. I didn’t sleep much that weekend – but having a newborn to care for and nurse prepared me well.

The weekend was an adventure of speed and imagination – and I enjoyed every moment of it.

To coach writers in preparation for the 3 Day Novel Contest, in the final days leading up to the challenge, my advice is straightforward:

Perfectionism is your enemy.

First drafts are not meant to be flawless. The most important concern at this stage is getting your ideas out on the page. Perfectionism, while unattainable, is a characteristic better saved for the editing stage.

You can edit later.

Turn off the left brain urge to edit while you write; it will slow you down and bog you in details that should not matter in the initial time of creative expression. While writing, let the ideas flow. You can critique your sentence structure, grammar and pacing later.

Drink lots of liquids.

If your body gets run down, your writing will suffer. Creativity is a mental and physical engagement. Be present, mindful and aware of your body, taking care of it as if you were running a race. Water is essential.

Get some exercise.

This can be achieved by literally running to the bathroom after all the liquids, but, seriously, getting up, stretching and flexing your muscles is tremendously important. You will be challenging the muscle of your brain but getting the blood flow throughout your whole body will make all the difference.

Trust your imagination to fill in the gaps.

At this stage of the writing, don’t worry if you accidentally changed the eye colour of your main character part way through your manuscript. Don’t worry if you are unsure how to end your story or how to get your protagonist from point A to point B. As you write, your imagination will give you solutions to the problems perturbing you and any errors can be fixed later. Free write to see what will come out of you but don’t worry. Worry inhibits your best writing.

Believe in yourself.

Write a novel in three days? Yes, it is possible. You can do it. I have done it, lots of people have done it, and so can you. Challenges are fun and push us to the limit. It’s worth the effort. (Even if you don’t “finish” your novel, if you survive the weekend and gave it your all, that’s something to be proud of.)

Have fun.

The 3 Day Novel Contest is not meant to be work. It is a fun weekend getaway (in your office or at the coffee shop); a chance for writers to do something silly and goofy like write a novel in three days! Go with the flow. Make it a game. Also, join in the conversation about the writing process by tweeting using #3DayNovel. I connected with a few individuals during the weekend and we ended up continuing the conversation and starting an online writing group.

Well, do you accept the challenge? Tomorrow, Friday August 29, is the last day to register.

I believe in you! The 3 Day Novel Contest is upon us. Good luck!



Free Writing to Unclog the Orifice

I love that word: Free. It may just be my favorite word in the English language – and FREE writing is one of my favorite activities as a writer.

Free writing is simple in theory. All you do is sit down and write, letting your mind take you wherever it wants to go. Yet, it can sometimes be hard to surrender. Often we have a finite quantity of time and infinite number of things to do. We bring our agenda to the notepad or computer when we want to write and often this pressure to be productive may choke out thoughtful creativity. Or, there is something on our mind that is pestering us like a gnat, flying around, distracting our focus from the writing at hand. The goal of free writing is to get all these worries, to-do-lists, and distractions out on the page – first – before even stressing over what comes next.

Creative writing frequently faces challenges of left-brain logic. Free writing lets you process all these practical concerns on the page so that you can break through into a fun space of ideas that flow through the once clogged orifice.

Then, with all this jumble out of the way, free writing allows the right side of your brain to dance – and you may actually be surprised what comes out of you.

When I have a scene I want to craft, either from real life or fiction, I simply sit down and write without filtering myself. This is my brand of free writing. I don’t judge my word choice or sentence structure in this stage. I don’t edit. It is simply a free flowing process. My favorite place to free write is in a program called Write or Die. I set the time and the word count and get started. I write till I am done and aim to get every detail out of me, forgoing every perfectionistic tendency. Free writing has helped me be a free spirit. Plus, its fun.

Have you ever tried free writing?

Did you ever write anything during free writing that surprised you?

If you have never tried free writing, don’t psych yourself out. Give it a go!

Healing by the Creative Arts

Through making my art, I discovered art therapy in a natural, organic way. No one told me to try it to help me heal. I wasn’t recommended a set of exercises to do in order to find myself. I just sat down in my studio with a pile of small woodcuts and got started without any direction or even conscious intent. The first wood sculpture I made I named The Quiet Rebuild and it was the beginning of that larger body of work.

Since then I have looked into the theory of art therapy and find it very stimulating and thoughtful for me in my professional art practice. In one of the semesters of my MFA I took an art therapy class as an interdisciplinary option and found it deepened my perspectives on art and healing. It gave me a new dimension in making, reflecting on and contextualizing my work. Since then the wood sculptures in The Quiet Rebuild grew to incorporate portraits of real people sharing their stories of resilience.

Now I am honoured to teach about the restorative potential of creativity. I offer two workshops: 

Healing through Visual Art

Healing through the Written Word

This summer and fall I will be presenting these workshops in Chicago Illinois, Amsterdam in the Netherlands, Sherwood Park Alberta and San Antonio Texas. If you are interested in having one or both of these presentations at your conference, event or association, please email me at info@alexismariechute.com

I strongly believe that art must say something that matters. Within my work, I wrestle with the ideas of loss, struggle and survival. You can read more about my approach in my Artist Statement.