Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Novel Marathon - What a Novel Idea!

Paula Boon, co-convenor of the Muskoka Novel Marathon, novelist and former marathon winner, works away at her current work in progress, a wonderful young adult tale with a spunky female lead. Paula heads up my writing group and it was she, along with Tracy Nita Pender, who convinced me I should give it a whirl. This photo was in today's Huntsville Forester.

by Cathy Olliffe

Chapter One
Jimmy Clarke: Even the most trustworthy husbands 
can become lowdown rotten cheating bastards.
Balding, middle-aged and slack around his hairy middle, hardware store manager Jimmy Clarke wasn’t anybody’s idea of raging male beauty. Anybody, that is, but cashier Cheryl Thompson, whose tongue was presently buried in Jimmy’s cheek like a Halls mentholyptus cough drop.

And so it began. My "novel."
I joined 30 writers from all over the place, including Toronto and Alberta, at the Learning Centre in Huntsville, ON for the annual Muskoka Novel Marathon. My friend Paula Boon, the head of my small writing group, was co-convenor for the event which not only encourages writers to write an entire novel in one weekend (or at least as much as they possibly can) but also to raise money for the Muskoka Literacy Council. A worthy cause. It continues to amaze me that, in this day and age, in a country like Canada where education is "free," that people are illiterate. Sad, isn't it.
What's even sadder is the idea that I could actually write a novel in one weekend.
Or even a novel, period.
What was I thinking?
Vic Burton hard at work on her play.
The idea is to write as much of a novel as you can between Friday night and Monday night. Some writers, like me, only participate until Sunday night. All writing must be done at the centre. No writing can be done ahead of time - the only things you can take in with you are ideas and a one-page outline. Some people bring sleeping bags and pillows and sleep on the floor, writing all day and practically all night. Some people, like me, go home and sleep. 
When time is up, writers submit their work to judges in three categories: adult, young adult and children's fiction. The judges select one piece in each category - those winners get the amazing opportunity to have their work considered by real, true publishing companies. Nothing is promised but, as writers know, even having work read by publishing companies is a coup.
Paula - up all night and still smiling.
She's an amazing writer, a euchre card shark,
a great Mom and a super gal.
I brought my friend Vic Burton along me and she did really well, using her time to put down almost an entire play. More than 50 pages worth. It's really funny - I can hardly wait to see the finished product.
Paula also did well. In spite of constant interruptions caused by her job as organizer, Paula also got a lot of work done. 
Some people were writing machines, staying up all night, writing all day, punch drunk with tiredness. Last I heard on Sunday, one fellow had written nearly 200 pages. He probably beat that handily by the time the weekend was over. We wondered, how could anyone possibly write that much, that fast, that tired - and have the writing be any good? People who knew his work knew that his stuff was good - he was a veteran marathon participant and he always did extremely well.
Erin Thomas signs one of her books,
Boarder Patrol, for my kids.
She has published two young
adult novels. Hooray, Erin!
And how did I do?
Not so well, honestly. I did manage to churn out more than 8,400 words, which is more than I'd ever written before, story-wise, in such a short time. So that's good. 
But a lot of it is self-indulgent crap. I'm not being hard on myself, I'm just telling the truth.
Dawn Huddlestone is also
a member of my writer's group.
I think I can write really well for about three hours. After that, I'm no good. The ideas desert me. I'm just filling space. 
That's a very good thing to learn about oneself. And there's nothing sucky about being able to sit down for three hours and write something worth reading.
So that's good.
Another thing I learned about myself is I can't stand having to be quiet! While I do require some semblance of peace in order to write, I can't stand absolute quiet. Because other people were working, everyone was as quiet as could be. I actually had to concentrate to make sure I wasn't tapping my feet or humming or laughing or even hitting the keyboard too hard. My friend Vic felt the same way.
Saturday night at Soul Sistas. Yum.
The thing about writing at home is, you can make as much noise as you want. You can write with music, or the TV blaring, or the kids yelling, or whatever. I have a pretty busy, noisy work environment and I've learned to shut it out, for the most part. I like it that way. I laugh loud, I talk loud, I am loud. When I have to be quiet for three days running I get pretty antsy.
Don't get me wrong – people definitely laughed and talked, especially during breaks in the kitchen, or at the wine and cheese Saturday night at Soul Sistas, an awesome health food restaurant in Huntsville. (Try their bean dip ... mmmmm) One of the best parts of the marathon was meeting other writers, hearing their struggles and their triumphs; getting to know other people. 
Another great thing for me: I have an idea for a novel. I have the bones of a novel. I have an 8,500 word head start. And from the bones, I would have to say this is going to be a very juicy at-the-beach potboiler with some important lessons for all middle-aged women facing cheating husbands and messy divorces.
The best thing of all: I know now I am capable of writing this. I can spend an hour a day, or three hours at a stretch, and get it done.
I have now joined the cool kids: I have a W.I.P.

Thanks to Paula, Karen Wehrstein, Nico and everyone who helped make the weekend so memorable. I'll never forget it, that's for sure!


  1. A potboiler! You can do this. That's how novelists with day jobs get it done - just chip away an hour here and there as regularly as possible. That's how J K Rowling did it.

  2. Very cool, Cathy! That sounds like a fun event. That's not how I'd like to write, but once a year, it would be worth doing. And congrats on your WIP! I'm with you--three hours--tops--is all I can stand to write at a time. Just keep chipping away, and before you know it, you'll have a completed first draft.

  3. Good luck ... get it done. I'm pullin' for you

  4. And I thought that the NaNoWriMo was a tought gig! At least you've got 30 days to get your 50,000 words down...not just a weekend!

    Great job, kiddo. I'll bet you really learned something about yourself as a writer trying taking that on. You should set that aside and work on a more complete outline and try to finish it when NaNo comes along in November.

    I hate to work in total silence as well. Perhaps next time they should split into two groups, one for library silence and the other for coffeeshop conversation.

    Great job, Cathy. We're all proud of ya.

  5. Hurray for you. Now, where are my pom poms?

    Gimmie a C, gimmie an A, gimmie T, gimmie an H, gimmie a Y. Wadda got? A novel writer!!!!

    That sounds like a lot of fun and a lot of pressure all at once. I'm excited that you have "the bones" of your story. I can't wait to read it in hardcover form.

  6. Go W.I.P.!

    When I read about the novel marathon in a earlier post I was amazed anyone would try to pound out a novel over the course of a weekend. But it sounds like it was a good time, and you learned that you can do it - writing a novel is not an insurmountable challenge. But I'm with you, I tackle that sort of challenge is smaller bites. And all your fingers survived!

  7. Hurray Cathy!! This is so great! Me I'm a silence worker, I admire how you can work in the midst of the sounds around you. Look how many people are in your court!!! I'm very excited for you, what a crazy experience, but you took a risk and you've got some really great stuff to work with -can't wait to read it! Go Cathy Go!!!!!

  8. that's awesome cathy! so glad you participated and got your feet wet. i'd love if there was something like that to participate in here. can't wait to see more of what you wrote!

  9. Hi Cathy, I clicked over from the Red Dress Club and I LOVE your blog. It was very reassuring to read your post, thank you. I've been considering taking the NaNoWriMo challenge, but had some serious doubts.

    Mainly, I seem to have this Muse that doesn't like working full-time. She visits frequently, but when she takes off, well, my writing is crap. Or nonexistant. Which may actually be better than crap. Because you don't have to delete nonexistent. :)

    That said, 8,400 words in one weekend is BIG. Plus you have a wip!

    ~that rebel, Olivia


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