Lima Al-Azzeh

3-Day Novel Post-Mortem

In Vancouver Events on September 9, 2010 at 8:54 pm

Photo by Ryan Clare

There was something surreally sensational about slipping 98 hot printed pages into a manilla envelope, sealed by fate, and sent for judging without any real idea of what will come of it. Though it only took a moment to package altogether, I made certain to take a deep breath and revel in my own private little ceremony.

So after 72 hours of back-breaking, fingertip numbing, ass flattening marathon writing I’ve come to some conclusions about my first-time experience as an entrant in the 3-Day Novel contest.

I don’t have a winner on my hands, this I know. I don’t even believe that I have submitted something worthy of praise or accolades. I’m not being self-deprecating, or even slightly pessimistic here, I worked hard and I overcame my fear of being an empty vessel of creativity and my fear of being unable to, at the very least, bring the work to some kind of catharsis.

It is just that I’ve fully realized and have come to terms with the absolute difficulty of attempting to pen (read: type) a masterfully, eloquently worded piece in three short days.

My muse throughout the competition was Muriel Barbery‘s Gourmet Rhapsody. A 155 page novel telling the tale of a renowned food critic’s search for an elusive taste/memory that he desperately attempts to recall and articulate on his deathbed. Previously I’ve read Barbery’s acclaimed novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog and in both novels, I’ve found her writing to be nothing shy of exquisite. Perhaps this was a faulty move on my part, for as much inspiration as she provided me, I was also infinitely intimidated when comparing my own work to hers. And then I had thought … I am so ridiculous. Really, when did I get to be this ridiculous?

I’m sure if Barbery had attempted to complete her fine work in three days it would have appeared to be just as diluted and dissonant. I’m sure it would have still been a masterpiece, a true winner, but you simply don’t get to a place of complete finality after three short days. She would have had editors weigh in afterwards, she would have reworded things a hundred times over, perhaps even only to end up back in the beginning, but at least more assured in her choices. She would have had feedback and notes and moments where she would put aside her manuscript for days because she was just so angry at it.

Or maybe I’m full of shit and she actually wrote the whole thing perfectly over the course of two days. Who knows? All I know is I cannot be intimidated by that which I do not know and I certainly can’t compare myself, or my work, to anybody else’s. I could only continue to use her as my muse and follow through.

At the end of my journey, I read over my piece and found it loaded with incongruence. I had started in one place with these people and wound up in quite another, with a very different lot of people. It will be a clear sign of the author who hadn’t outlined a damn thing beforehand. I say this with humour both at the situation and at myself. I slightly regretted not thinking about who these people were before I sat down to write about their lives. I reprimanded myself a little for not taking the time to ask myself necessary questions about who they are at the core of their being, or even attempting to understand what it is in them that drives their most prevalent decisions and motives. It would have informed the piece greatly.

But then I realized a few more things, and so this is where I ended up: I realized that the story I had initially, and loosely, set out to tell wound up being completely different from the story I ended up telling, so how can I fault myself for choosing not to do my research before? It would have been a futile endeavour anyways, and in reality, infinitely more frustrating than creating these figures on the spot.

I also came to the conclusion that what I have now is a start. Towards the end of the novel, I felt like I was coming to understand these humans at a very fundamental level. I had added so much complexity to who they were, that I managed to guide them on their journey from being caricatures to being characters. A hugely successful feat in my books.

I find myself thinking of them always now, as though they are living, breathing beings as opposed to phantoms surviving only in my imagination. Last night, I even felt a little worried for some of them: What’s their fate? Where will they really end up? How can I justify them and who they are to the wider world? I care about them now and I want to do right by them.

Am I on track to being a true novelist? Who knows. All I know is that I’ve started something I will never forgive myself for not finishing. So I will finish it.

3-Day Novel Post-Mortem Roundup

Word count: 29,055

Page count: 98

Avg. hours sleep/night: 5

  1. I’m so proud of you. You are my hero, my idol. When I grow up, I want to enter the 3-day contest just like you.

    So, do you think you’ll do it again next year?

  2. You are awesome babe! I am so proud of you for doing this! Maybe next year you can talk me into doing it with you πŸ˜‰ Please do continue on this novel and finish your thoughts and take your time to do some more edits so even if it doesn’t go anywhere you can follow through on what you have started! Love ya!

  3. I think when you develop something you feel that kind of connection to you must move forward with it. Writing is creation, and what we all want to do is breathe life into a world and its people. Then, we want to not just share it with others, but help others to live there for a while. Later, hopefully, they will want to come back and visit from time to time.

  4. Thanks so much for your comments guys! I agree with @realityhaven there’s this inexplicable element of writing a novel where you feel like your characters are a part of you and you want to share that and the world you’ve allowed them to live in. That’s a great way of articulating it. @Ashley, Don’t worry love, I’m going to keep on keeping on and I think one of the bigger things I’m learning (questioning) is whether a book deal really makes you a novelist. How is that actually defined? Is it attached to money? or the act of writing a novel itself? If I don’t win – I say if to remain slightly hopelessly optimistic- I think I would love nothing more than to publish the novel as an ebook. I realize I just really want people to read what I’m writing, money would be nice but who knows right? and @vancouverbites you are awesome, and your blog makes me hungry and that’s a good thing πŸ™‚ If you asked me that question a few days ago I would have said “hell no” but here I am four days later and I sort of started thinking, well maybe I will – not only to develop a new idea but there are some things I’d do differently this time, in terms of preparation. Would be interesting to see if a new plan would result in any better a work. That being said, I really want to spend the time in-between paying this current manuscript due diligence and I’m not sure I’ll be able to start something else without feeling like this current ms is farther along.
    Thanks again for stopping by and popping in with a comment you guys, means a lot to hear what you smart people have to say πŸ™‚

  5. Congratulations Lima! If you feel connected to the characters and are thinking about their fate (and worrying) then you’ve created a manuscript worthy of expending more effort on finishing. All the bits you are worried about can be fixed in re-writes and edits. You are a trooper and I admire what you accomplished this weekend! Be well and keep writing!! πŸ˜€

  6. Thanks, Lima! What a great summary of the 3-Day experience. And yes, I agree with everyone above – if, over three days, you create a world and characters whose fate you now feel invested in, then you’ve already won, and you’ll definitely find yourself reworking and making this into something more in the future.

  7. Congratulations on completing this mission impossible of a task Lima! I really don’t know how you managed to type out a novel in 3-days, but the fact that you did is amazing. You are your own worst critic so believe me when I say that you write beautifully and that your writing inspires me to write better as well. All the best to you!

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