Tips on How to Get Through 3- Day Novel: A Writing Marathon

When summer is nearly over and kids start heading back to school, you know that three seasons are quickly coming up: pumpkin spice season, the holiday season, and novel writing season. For those who are a part of the writing world, writers can look forward to the 3-Day Novel Contest in September and National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November.

This year will be my twelfth year doing NaNoWriMo, and after being a participant for so long (participants call themselves WriMos), I decided in July to take a shot at doing 3-Day Novel alongside other writers in my writing group for something more ‘challenging’. While some people said that it is crazy, the truth is that 3-Day Novel is on my Bucket List. Why? I guess it’s because NaNoWriMo had gotten more dull throughout the years. Still fun, but less challenging since I knew I could do it. Plus, 3-Day Novel was a chance to change up my writing routine! (And I still maintain that it’s great for any writer looking to really challenge themselves.)

About 3-Day Novel Contest

This annual contest takes place every Labor Day weekend and this year it took place September 2nd-September 4th. The challenge every year is to write approximately 100 pages double spaced in 72 hours. If you’re more comfortable with word counts like I am, that is approximately 25,000 words if you count using the standard 250 words per page calculation. Being a contest, 3-Day Novel Contest has prizes for first place, second place, and third place. First place winners get a publication offer, second place gets $500, and third place gets $100. Additionally, they have a shortlist on the website where the title and author’s name can be seen. There is a fee for submitting, but for some of us – like myself – it helps keep me accountable for actually trying my hardest since money was actually put towards it. I will admit, it genuinely helped! Even though I couldn’t come up with an idea, it made me continuously try to make something work out and I found one of my favorite ideas to date just one week before September 2nd because I was desperately trying to find something that would work!

Many people just said that people would cheat and write the novel well beforehand, but the thing is they get suspicious of polished writing since there’s no way that polished novels would come out of this event. Or novels without plot holes, problems, or inconsistencies. If someone is willing to cheat and submit, you still win in the end by doing it because in the end, you have a draft you can continue to work on by editing, extending it, or etc. I used this 3-Day Novel to really flesh out a world I created and it will be used for November’s NaNoWriMo. Plus, I have more of the background and history of the characters which I wouldn’t have had otherwise!

Tips to Get Through 3-Day Novel

  1. Have an idea and loose outline ready to go. Whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, a loose outline is necessary to know where you want to start and where you want to end. When you’re doing one hundred pages in 72 hours, you don’t have much time to sit around and just be idly thinking. An outline helps you push forward and continue on a path. Also, be flexible. The story doesn’t need to follow the outline, stories live! 

    My desk was filled with outlines, information, and papers that would inspire me.
  2. Put together a plan for each day. Plan out your 72 hours. How much sleep can you get away with? How much do you need? Some people need a minimum of 7 or 8 hours to keep writing strong, but some can get just an hour or so each night for just three days. Figure out what works for you, then plan the rest of the day accordingly. Times to write, when to grab a bite (and where!), and where you’ll be for writing. Put together the best plan for you to be successful. One person’s plan might not work for someone else. IF you have pets, make sure you include them in your plan too! If you have a significant other or have a roommate, see if they can cook meals or do the chores/errands for just the three days. If not, is it okay if you skip (some) of your duties for writing and do it right after? If you plan for these things and work it out with those around you, you’ll be golden!
  3. Find and prepare your writing space. Do you write best on your own desk? In a quiet room? Need writing music? Or perhaps you’re someone who can write better in a coffee shop. Whatever it may be, plan accordingly. The day before, ensure your chosen space is open the hours that you want to be writing, or have a backup plan for where to go do writing when that coffee shop closes. If you’re writing on your desk, clear it off from anything that might be distracting. Some people put inspirational artwork or quotes around their desk area, others just want it to be uncluttered. Find what will inspire you most. If you’re writing by hand, make sure your favorite paper and pencils/pens are around and working so you don’t hit a snag at the starting line.
  4. Get treats, drinks, and food ready. You need to make sure that you’re getting enough food to fuel your brain, snacks to keep you going strong, and drinks to keep off dehydration and fatigue (caffeine anyone??). It’s not the best time to go grocery shopping, so stock up! 

    Caffeine and sugar were my best friends. Coffee and black tea not shown. I admit there was some serious withdrawal though.
  5. Leave your editor at the starting line. Whatever you write during the 72 hours… it’s not going to be pretty. If it is, you’re probably spending way too long writing that scene! It’s okay for it to be messy – that’s the whole point! Leave your editor at the starting line and just GO. Even if you feel like you’re rambling, keep going. If you need to take a break, do it, but remember to come back! Whatever you do? Don’t edit. Don’t even think about tempting yourself by looking back at something you wrote previously. Don’t do that to yourself.
  6. BACK UP YOUR WORK. And do this often! Many writers, including myself, have lost work in the past due to not properly backing up their work. All of that time, effort, and work? It’s gone. So make sure you’re backing up all of your work OFTEN. Lots of things can happen in 72 hours, but don’t let it be that your novel is gone.
  7. Take care of yourself. This is the most important thing – if not second most important for some – to #6. While this is a competition and it can be really intense, your health and well-being is the most important thing. Put you first. If you’re feeling dizzy or unwell from lack of food, sleep, or something else, then listen to your body. Take an extra break, get more sleep, or do whatever you need to do. At the end of the day, this is just a bunch of writing and it can wait for you.

    Took a much needed break and de-stressed with my guinea pig Willow.
  8. (Optional) Declare your commitment to 3-Day Novel! Don’t forget to announce to people that you’re doing this Labor Day weekend! If you get a ton of calls from family and friends, let them know you’re unplugging or unavailable for the weekend except for emergencies. This ensures they can support you without distracting you the whole weekend!

For me, the experience was challenging, and there were times I wondered why I was doing it because it is mentally exhausting! However, after all was said and done, I know I would do it all over again if I had the choice. Plus, I had great support throughout Labor Day Weekend! That support made it so much more doable.

Now that 3-Day Novel is over and we’re in October (aka Preptober), I’m gearing up for NaNoWriMo! With all these writing challenges, I just have one question for all the writers out there.

When will you take on YOUR muse?


  1. I haven’t done NaNo quite as many years as you have, but I definitely don’t consider it much of a challenge anymore (though I came close to losing last year, but there were pretty serious extenuating circumstances, and in the end I did manage to pull off the win, thus adding to my confidence). Now I challenge myself in other ways, though. In 2014, I pushed myself to finish the novel, no matter what the length. In 2015, I decided to set my goal for the month at 100k words, starting with 25k on the first day. I came dangerously close to burning out after that huge first day, and almost missed my goal for the month, but I still accomplished it.

    I’m not trying to brag here, nor am I trying to show how ho-hum NaNo has gotten. I enjoy every year, and do something different and new every year (even if I’m not trying to). I also usually learn something about writing, or about myself as a writer.

    That 3-day challenge sounds interesting, though since 50k words is barely considered a novel length, are you meant to have a completed story in 25k words? Or is it supposed to be a start on a story?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Congratulations on finishing and winning NaNo last year! It sounds like you’re definitely working on honing your craft and you are doing a great job finding new ways to challenge yourself. I can say that 25k on day one is no easy feat. You should be really proud of yourself. 🙂

      NaNo is great even if you’ve done it a lot because of the people and connections – at least for me! Plus, it’s more dedicated time to work on my writing. As writers, we always have room to grow and improve.

      Yes! The idea is to complete a story in 25k-30k words – if you want to submit it for the contest. What I mean is that it has to have a start, middle, and end. If you decide to just do 3-Day Novel but not submit (so don’t pay the entrance fee), then you can just get a head start on a story you’ve been dying to write. My own story got a little too big. Even when I reached 30k, I was only 1/4 through the story. Oops? But I still a great time and it was really motivational for me for having signed up! I will admit that I’m one of those people who don’t like wasting money. I put money down for this? Gosh darn it, I’m going to do it! So it was actually super helpful for me. That said, not everyone works that way, and that’s okay.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’ll have to keep that contest on the back of my head in case I have an idea someday that I think might fit. I tend to think in novel-length stories these days, mostly because of NaNo. Like you, I don’t like wasting money, so if I didn’t think the story would be the right length, I couldn’t put the money down. Thanks for sharing about it.

        Good luck with your NaNo!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I actually put money down since so many people in my writing group was doing it! I was confident I could come up with a short enough idea, but actually signed up before I had an idea. I wouldn’t take that money back. I came up with an idea and magic system in a week trying to find something that would work. I got pretty desperate, but got one of the best ideas I have had in a long time.

        Let us know if you ever end up doing it in the future! I’d love to hear from you and how it goes.

        Good luck with your NaNo this year as well!

        Liked by 2 people

    1. It can be really tough, but it is absolutely do-able! Even if you aren’t able to get to the 100 pages (3-Day Novel) or 50,000 Words (NaNoWriMo), you’re still writing more than you otherwise would! Think of it as a win-win if you make it to your end goal – otherwise, you’ll still win. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. As a long-time NANOWRIMO winner, I am intrigued and excited by the idea of a 3-day novel — the speed and the pressure may be just the thing to get me past the sticky parts and into the deep, wonderful story!

    Liked by 1 person

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