Novel Marathon Preparation Tips

After chatting with a fellow Muskoka Novel Marathon marathoner last night, I decided to write a quick post about preparing to undergo a novel writing marathon. This is for both my fellow MNM marathoners, and, for anyone who is thinking of doing a novel writing marathon on their own.

Our yearly marathon takes place in July, so we currently have just shy of three months to prepare. As it is a competition and the novels submitted at the end of the 72 hour marathon get sent to judges for individual critique and consideration in the BEST NOVEL AWARD for their categories, we are only allowed to submit what we write AT the marathon. The writers are, however, allowed to bring a one-page outline of the novel they wish to write while at the marathon. So we don’t have to come into it completely unprepared. For those who write based on an outline, there’s a lot you can fit onto one page. An entire novel, if you’re careful with your bullet pointing. (-:

After chatting with Jennifer Turney last night, I’ve decided to approach this year’s marathon a little differently. We’ll see how it goes. You might recall from my recent Oops, I did it again post that Jennifer is to blame for me participating in the novel marathon this year. She ignited the spark that led to my eventual registration.

In prior years I never really prepared so much as I worried myself into an anxious state of catatonia as the weekend approached. The only thing I really made sure to have going into the marathon was a title for the novel I would write. The ideas themselves? I just allowed those to fly about in my mind untethered. I neither pinned them down, nor thought them out. I just hoped something would stick when I sat down to write.

This was okay for several years. And then the 2016 novel marathon came and I sat down and had approximately ZERO idea what it was I was going to write. I didn’t even have a title that year. In fact, for the first 24 hours of the 72 hour novel writing marathon I basically wrote nothing. I hemmed and hawed, I floated from one WIP to another…deciding not to enter the competition but to work on something I had already began elsewhere. But nothing was motivating me, nothing spoke to me. After having a short conversation with fellow marathoner Dale Long, after 24 hours of wasted marathoning,

From that point onward, I had a plan. Dale suggested I write MY STORY, only change it. Not a great epiphany in its own right, but man…it hit me like a rock on the side of the head. It was almost as though his suggestion gave me a permission of sorts. I’m sure a lot of writers do this, but it was almost as though it had never occurred to me until Dale mentioned it. I was desperate. I wanted to write something, to have something useful when my 72hrs were up. So I took Dale’s advise and began to tell something resembling my own story with an unfathomable amount of lies sprinkled throughout to make it nothing like my story. Once I began, I just kept trucking right on through to the end of the marathon.

I wrote I WILL TELL THE NIGHT in the last 48 hours of the marathon. And much to my surprise, it went on to win the 2016 Best Adult Novel Award.

So much for a quick post. I have done what I usually do. I have digressed.

Maybe bullet points will help shorten this post.


  • Once you decide to take part in a novel writing marathon, make a commitment to always have a journal on your person. You never know when inspiration will hit. Jot down any and all ideas you may have. Don’t trust that you will remember them.
  • This sounds unimportant but if you listen to music while writing, make a playlist. Pick only songs you know you won’t SKIP when listening to it. All favourites that you won’t get sick of. And enough songs to have a variety. 72hrs is a long time.
  • If you come up with a novel idea that sticks, think about how you’re going to write your outline. Point-form. Chapter Titles. First sentences. Character descriptions. Last sentence. Outcome. Plot points. You get one page. Make it work for you.
  • For Muskoka Novel Marathon writers, all of our meals are prepared. You will want to bring snacks. This means something different to each writer. Some need a lifetime supply of Twizzlers to see them through a writing session, others need sunflower seeds and still others need cake. Bring what you think you’ll crave at 3:00am on a Saturday morning. If that’s sugar, so be it. It’s only one weekend…not a new habit. Bring some happy-food for yourself.
  • Gadgets, widgets, fidgets and balls. Bring something to play with and keep your hands busy while you’re musing. If you have a Rubik’s Cube or a skipping rope or something else that makes you happy while whiling away some non-writing time, BRING IT.
  • Pillows, blankets, water-bottle—these are essential for the Muskoka Novel Marathoner. As are changes of clothes, toothbrushes, toothpaste, a towel, comfortable shoes, and a book. Yes, a book.
  • At the Muskoka marathon, writers typically make one or more trips down the hill to downtown Huntsville. Bring an umbrella (just in case), and money (or, for most of us, a debit card). We will often stop at a restaurant/bar for a drink—which is more about the bonding time and writerly talk than it is about drinking. This is quality getting-to-know-you time. Sometimes the bonding involves getting arrested together or experiencing a lively brawl, but often it’s good clean fun.
  • Bring a sense of adventure that’s literally too large to fit in the car or on the horse you ride in on. This is a tremendous experience. You’re bound to pack fear—everyone is. It’s a daunting challenge to write a novel in 72 hours. FEAR will be in your suitcase, guaranteed. But make room also for your sense of adventure. It’s a fun journey, kind of like a rollercoaster—it’s filled with ups, downs and in-betweens. Be ready for anything, be open to everything.
  • Bring SPIRIT. Cheer on others and allow others to cheer you on. If you’re having difficulty with a plot twist or an irrational (or rational) character, you’re surrounded by 40 other writers who know what you’re going through. Talk it out. Let out your frustrations at the dinner table. Admonish your characters over breakfast. We’re a community when we’re there. We live together for 72 hours. You’ll find the other writers HAVE YOUR BACK. Let them help you and be helped by you. This was one of the greatest gifts Sue Blakeney gave us at the marathon. Her time and unstoppable wisdom. She sat with me for almost an hour one day listening to me rant about a character and the direction I was going to take my novel in. She changed the trajectory of the story by calming me down and talking me through all the possibilities. Let’s all be Sue Blakeneys this marathon. It would be a great way to honor her MNM legacy.
  • Take a page from Alanis Morissette’s playbook…THANK U, to be exact.

Thank you terror
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you frailty
Thank you consequence
Thank you thank you silence

How ’bout me enjoying the moment for once

How bout remembering your divinity
How bout unabashedly bawling your eyes out

I think that song actually carries in it a great piece of wisdom about the Muskoka Novel Marathon. The moment you release your fear at how overwhelming a task it is that you set yourself is the moment you receive the gift of how wonderful the experience is.

The moment I let go of it
Was the moment I got more than I could handle
The moment I jumped off of it
Was the moment I touched down


See you at the marathon.



By Kevin Craig

Author, Poet, Playwright. Author of The Camino Club, Billions of Beautiful Hearts, and Book of Dreams, all from Duet Books, the LGBTQ Young Adult imprint of Chicago Review Press. Other books: Pride Must Be A Place, Half Dead & Fully Broken, Burn Baby Burn Baby, The Reasons, Sebastian's Poet, and Summer on Fire.

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