How to write 29 plays in 29 days without burning out

Typewriter with 29 plays later on paper

I’m a bit of a left brain/right brain strange combination. I love writing and consider myself a highly creative person – but I’m also a number junkie too. I’ve just finished writing 29 plays in 29 days by taking part in a project run by The Space called 29 Plays Later. The combination of words and numbers really worked for me. It made me productive, motivated and even more excited about numbers.

Here’s 10 things I learned

1. Deadlines work. No surprises here. But being told you have to deliver your play, by email by 10am GMT every day gives you impetus and motivation to keep going.

2. The hardest briefs produced the best work. The daily prompts that were emailed through varied from ‘write something abstract’ to a complex set of rules to writing something with 20 characters in. One I really didn’t like was to write a musical. So I had to work around that negativity and think harder. And you know what? I think it was by far the best piece I wrote.

3. Know when you’re productive. I am most productive in the final 10% of the allocated time slot. Each ‘brief’ is given 36 hours before the deadline and the vast majority of my writing took place in the final three hours.

4. Trigger words work. If you don’t submit your play in time for the deadline you are disqualified from the competition. This type of language gives you just the right amount of fear to keep going.  Maybe it’s because they are reminiscent from school but no one wants to get disqualified. No one wants to miss a deadline.

5. Constraints stimulate creativity. Each daily challenge stipulated a specific theme or set of rules. Working with those and interpreting them took the pressure off the blank page. If nothing else, you could write a title responding to the brief and take it from there.

6. 90/10 ratio for thinking vs writing. Even though I mainly wrote in the final 10% of the allocated time – I read the brief straight away and used the other 90% to let my subconscious do the work – turning over thoughts and ideas. Then, when I came to switch my laptop on, bleary eyed first thing in the morning, I didn’t spend long staring at the computer screen. I didn’t have time to.

7. Patterns are important. The brief came into my inbox at the same time every day and I got up at the same time every morning to write. I sat in the same place, and drank the same hot water and lemon out the same cup. Sounds boring? It meant the variety and surprises could come in my writing by surrounding myself by super familiar predictable habits.

8. Winning streaks gain momentum. Every day I wrote and sent my play before the deadline I achieved something. Each deadline had the weight of the previous ones laid upon it so by the end, it would have felt so much worse if I hadn’t stayed in the game.

9. Community matters. We didn’t get the stats until the end as to how many people entered. But I knew there were people out there, just like me, and the emails we all received each day bonded us together in an anonymous group. It felt important that there were other people doing this.

10. Being time poor can make you a better writer. I didn’t have time to review my work before submitting it. Most of the time I had a few minutes left to tidy up typos. It meant it was all about the creative process and not about ‘how good’ the work is. I shushed my inner critic by just getting my head down and focusing on that deadline. And the next day was a fresh challenge, so no time to worry about whether yesterday’s play was rubbish.

So where do you go from here?

29 plays sitting in a folder – varying quality and length. For me – I’ve got a great bank of ideas to draw from. Some might go on to be short plays at Village Pub Theatre and some might be developed into longer pieces.

I would highly recommend taking a month to write something new and uncensored every day. Email them to a friend by an agreed deadline. There’s lots of daily writing prompts available or maybe swap prompts on a Facebook group.

And to get you started, here was one of my favourites.

Give it a go: Challenge #20

Write a play (or story)  with 20 characters in it (one of whom must be called Robert or Roberta). Set it in space or in an empty space or in The Space.

Make it about approaching a big milestone. Excited about getting the key to the door? Terrified of going over the hill? Birthdays, anniversaries, key moments in life.  Make sure there is a dramatic conclusion/endpoint

Bonus points for referencing 1996 in some way.

Sophie Good About the author: Sophie works in marketing and writes drama the stage when she can. She co-founded the Village Pub Theatre in Leith and lives in Edinburgh. Dreams of finding the perfect balance between putting food on the table and fire in the belly. @sophiegood