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The 3-Day Novel: How Kayt Burgess overcame her anxiety

Kayt Burgess won the 3-Day Novel Contest in 2011 for her story Heidegger Stairwell. She talks with Canada Writes about those caffeine-soaked days and the "hot mess" that became her award-winning book. 

Tell us about yourself.
1. I’m a Canadian person. 
2. I write, draw and make music.
3. I don’t like talking about myself.
What is Heidegger Stairwell about?
It’s a faux biography about the rise and fall of an indie rock band from small town Ontario as written by their self-proclaimed muse.
Was 2011 the first year you competed in the 3-Day Novel Contest?
It was the second time I registered but the first time I actually competed. I attempted a 3-Day Novel back in 2004, got about six hours in and gave up.
What were those three days like?
Caffeine-soaked and ecstatic.
Going in, did you already have an idea of what you wanted to write about?
I knew I was going to write about a band and about my hometown: that’s it. Half an hour before I started, my narrator decided he was going to be a music journalist, a transgender man and a pain in my arse, so that gave me a little more to go on...
What was the hardest part about the experience?
Writing the first draft of Heidegger Stairwell wasn’t hard. It was intense and incredibly emotional, but the words, raw and rough as they were, came out effortlessly. The hardest part was submitting it at the end.
How did the 2011 experience differ from the other years?
I participated in 2012 as well, and my manuscript was shortlisted. But the experience in writing that piece differed vastly from writing Heidegger Stairwell. Writing HS was almost transcendent. But my 2012 attempt was pulling teeth—every single tooth, including wisdom teeth that never dropped, all without Novocain and probably with a pair of rusty pliers. So it wasn't my favourite weekend.
How did you feel you had done once the deadline was up?
I thought the book was a hot mess.
What did winning this do for your writing? 
I’m terrible at finishing things—I have another five manuscripts, each about 85% complete on my hard drive waiting for edits and manila envelopes. But I’m a perfectionist and will pick at my writing for years. Winning forced me to finish a book in a short period of time and helped me overcome some of my anxiety.
Without the pressure of a three day deadline, how different do you think Heidegger Stairwell would have been?
It would've been significantly larger, less episodic, but possibly less potent and raw. The process didn't allow me to smooth out all the edges, which I think suits the story and the man telling it.
Writer, artist and musician Kayt Burgess was born in Manitouwadge, Ontario and grew up in Elliot Lake. She studied classical music at the University of Western Ontario and has a Master's degree in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University. Her novel Heidegger Stairwell was published by 3 Day Books and Arsenal Pulp Press in September 2012.

The 3-Day Novel Contest takes place every year on labour day weekend. For more information, visit http://www.3daynovel.com.


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