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Would-be authors from around the world have been fuelling up on caffeine and fast food as they prepare to write a novel this weekend.

It's the Three-Day Novel Contest and it's not for anyone with writer's block.

The gruelling event was to start as the clock ticked over into Saturday. It runs through the Labour Day weekend until midnight on Monday, at which point all writing must cease.

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The contest is a way for busy people to force their creative juices to flow, contest managing editor Melissa Edwards in an interview.

"It's a way to force that novel out of your head."

Writing is a solitary craft and the contest allows for a community to develop. About 450 people are expected to participate this year, up from 375 last year, she said.

"People are seeking a way to join with other writers and participating in an event like this is a way to do that."

Winners will be announced in December with the winning author receiving a publishing contract.

There's a wide range of "genre-busting" entries, from murder mysteries to comedies to unusual childhood memoirs.

"They're all a bit out there," Edwards said. "We want these things to be unique and be obviously something that was created under a pressure-cooker situation."

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While the whole process has a marathon aspect to it, the sponsors readily acknowledge Day Three is the killer. And they provide tips for getting through it.

"Take three deep breaths," the contest website suggests. "Guzzle coffee, black or with sugar. Don't punish yourself. Do that on Tuesday. Get back to work. Take phone off hook. Pull drapes. If you feel lonely - an outcast - you are. That manuscript is now your only friend, the only one who cares. Finish it. Let it have a life, even if you don't. Bravo."

The pressure can begin to take its toll.

"On the second day I was hanging out the window, shouting at the neighbour's dog to be quiet. My neighbour doesn't have a dog," Aimee Taylor of West Vancouver is quoted as saying on the site.

Edwards said the most perverse winner is probably 1999's Skin by Toronto's Bonnie Bowman, a journalist then based in Vancouver.

Skin was the tale of a dermatologist with a freakishly large male appendage who had a predilection for women with bad skin conditions. It was an unusual take on Beauty and the Beast.

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"It's more of an outlandish sort of fairy tale," Edwards said.

The rules of the game are quite simple: Write what you can in three days. Everyone is on the honour system.

One early entrant was easily caught because of the tome he handed in.

"Judges were suspicious when George Telford, a feisty senior from Nova Scotia, submitted his 1,000-page manuscript Dreadful Things," the contest guide says. "It was easily proven that no one could write 1,000 pages in just three days and an angry Mr. Telford attempted to save some face by claiming to have misread the contest name, believing it to have said the Three-Year Novel Contest."

The guide also suggests simple and quick food.

"Forget balance, this is not a 'spa,' there are no 'healing days.' This is a competition; a crucible; a hill of sand. Climb! Climb!"

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Outlines are permitted prior to the contest. However, the actual writing must begin no earlier than 12:01 a.m., Sept. 2 and stop by midnight on, Sept. 4. Participants have four days following the contest to have handwritten manuscripts typed.

Entrants must present a witnessed statement confirming the novel was written over the long weekend.

There are no limits to the novel's length, but entries average 100 typewritten pages, double-spaced.

The contest began in 1977 and has been run through a variety of small publishing companies including Anvil Press, Arsenal Pulp Press and Bluelake Press.

"The contest is a beast to manage," said Edwards, a freelance writer and editor.

Once all the entries are received, they go through several levels of judges in order to winnow down the numbers.

Each book is read by at least two judges who determine if it should continue through what Edwards calls "the purging process."

When it gets down to about 20 entries, new judges - generally operators of small publishing companies from across Canada - are brought in.

"It's a long, long process," Edwards said.

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