In the novel writing community, word sprints and word wars are common practice, especially during National Novel Writing Month month of November. On forums and Twitter, novelists set word count goals and race other writers to that goal. One word war I participated in had a goal of 7,000 words within 24 hours.
The screenwriting community doesn’t partake in these hyper-caffeinated rough draft shenanigans probably because our first drafts are barely 1/4th the size of a novel wordcount-wise. The average script is only 25,000 words. However, I am still a proud crusader of getting through a rough draft of a screenplay within seven days, and I’m here to share my secrets!
Why Speed Writing is a Good Thing
Done write, a successful writing marathon taps into the part of the brain responsible for divergent thinking (the creative process responsible for raw creation) and allows for uninhibited storytelling.
Writing is like pottery. First, you have to create the clay through the creation of your rough draft. Subsequent rewrites and edits help shape your writing into its final draft form, but without the initial brain dump for the rough draft, you don’t have any clay to start with!
8 Writing Marathon Tips
- Start with an outline… The best writing marathons are guided by a thorough outline. By filling in each of the acts, assigning story beats, and outlining each of the characters, you can find and fix the big problems before they wreck your story. Page one rewrites are bloody battles to be avoided at all costs — and this means making sure your idea can withstand an outline before you start typing away! If you just have a cool scene but nowhere to go, writing mindlessly may not get you where you want to go. But if you have a well constructed vision with characters so real you halfway expect them to walk into your office and begin chatting away, then the story will write itself. The players and situations you’ve constructed will spur more ideas and you just have to shepherd the action along.
- …but don’t look at it when you write. Sure, you can reference your outline now and then when you get lost. But if you come up with a creative subplot or a new scene that makes your fingers tingle with excitement, write it! Then, when you go back and rewrite, you can decide if it works. That’s why Final Draft has the “omit” button ladies and gents.
- Keep the momentum. Last night I went all out and cranked out 30 pages of my Act 2 for Boy Meets Assassin. Today, my brain is word soup and I’m barely able to blog. But when you get in the zone, don’t stop! My goal for yesterday was 20 pages, but I came up with a new idea so I went back and added an extra ten before I stumbled into bed at 1AM. Today I opened my script ready to hit the “omit” button with reckless abandon, only to find that the crazed scenes I’d typed up actually were pretty good. Yes, they’re going to need work. But my deviation from my outline actually paid off big time, and I’ve got another great twist for my finale. Don’t stop writing! Keep going at all costs!
- Caffeinate. There’s a study out there (if you can find it, I’ll love you forever) that sayscoffee is better for creativity than alcohol. So put down the booze and make a Starbucks run!
- Hydrate. For when you down too much espresso and start to feel lightheaded, make sure you have water nearby.
- Turn off the internet. Best idea or best idea ever? I think both. Twitter, Facebook, email, Tumblr, pinterest, Myspace, whatever– shut it allll down. Time wasters such as these (as entertaining and helpful as they are!) use a different part of the brain that is related to motor tasks, not divergent thinking. Not to mention how costly distractions are time-wise. So focus!
- Set a goal before you start. If you haven’t done a writing marathon before, I’d suggest 10 pages to start. That’ll take you, what, an hour or two? Try and do the entire ten pages consecutively. Don’t leave Starbucks/Coffee Bean and Tea/[Insert Eclectic Coffeeshop Here] until you’re done.
- Rest the next day. After yesterday’s excessive word adventure, I set aside today to do stuff for my other job, workout, update my blogs, organize my office, and clean my espresso machine. Protecting yourself against burnout is important. Just like an athlete, you can’t go on a 5k sprint the day after you run a half-marathon!
Now go challenge a fellow screenwriter to a page count sprint!