Timed Challenges and Why I Love Them

If you’ve been around a while, you’ve heard me talk about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) or the 50k Sprint across the month of November I do nearly every year. Over the last 12 years, I’ve done it and won more than 10 times. In short, I’m a fan. It was my first time challenge. Since then, I have also participated in 48hr Film Project and 24hr Playfest. In each of these, I’ve written a complete work within the time frame to be used by someone else to perform. In the case of Film Fest, my first year, I wrote and directed a movie called “Savannah, Slick”. The script ended up being over 10 pages long, which if you know anything about film making means the resulting film would be over 10 minutes long. This was a small problem since I had to get everything down into 7 minutes or less. Quick lesson in reducing a story to its most necessary elements.

Though I had no idea how to direct, I had an amazing cast and crew who made my work come to life and insured I would be willing to do it again.

The second time, I decided not to direct but was rather an assistant on a friend of mine’s project. Since I had some experience directing, things defaulted to me for a while, but once my friend David found his directorial legs, he was off and running on his own which resulted in “True Egyptian Cotton”.

“Three Witches and a Sacrifice,” my first play, a bit of a paranormal comedy about three young witches attempting their first human sacrifice debuted at the Muse Arts Warehouse (a Savannah local theater venue) in 2015. I wrote it and “Demons on a Train,” which has not been performed, in the same four hour time span.

There are two things I absolutely love about Timed Challenges.
1. They produce work.
2. They tell you when to quit.

They Produce Work
In the month of November, with that 30 day deadline kicking around in my head, my production goes into overdrive. One year, I produced 75k in November. Which is, according to NaNo standards, a book and a half. By publishing standards, it’s not quite a full Fantasy novel (120k) but it gets you a lot closer to being finished. Basically, if I could sustain that pace, I could write 120k in two months and have a full first draft of a Fantasy novel finished.
48hr Film Project usually expects you will write the script on Friday night, so you can start filming on Saturday, so you can do your editing Sunday prior to turning the work in.
24Hr Playfest gives you from 10pm to 5am to write a 10pp play. According to my friends who do this and somehow write multiple drafts this is enough time to write at least two full drafts before turn in time. As I said previously I wrote two plays in about four hours. I also don’t write multiple drafts for timed events. I go with the first thing that comes to mind and run with it because otherwise I get bogged down and nothing gets done. The deadline forces me to produce work.

They Tell You When To Quit
No matter how much time you have, eventually it runs out. Someone is going to yell time. The bell is going to ring. The turn in deadline hits. No matter what else happens, this WILL occur. At that point, you turn something in or you don’t, end of story. You produced something or you didn’t.

A Tidbit: There’s a standard thing in writing these days called a “sprint”. Short periods of INTENSE activity leading to higher levels of production. They can last up to an hour, but they don’t generally recommend them being longer than that. I’ve found my ideal is between 15-30 minutes. This allows me to produce up to 1k words in 30 minutes. Good to know when I’m trying to get something done on a deadline. Not familiar with this idea, google “Pomodoro Technique.” 

I’m not going to say that timed challenges are for everybody. They aren’t. If you’re the kind of person who has to stop and consider every comma, then they will probably frustrate you and that’s never a good thing. However, if you struggle with wanting to get words down on paper and are willing to let your inner editor take a back seat for a while, maybe you should give a timed challenge a shot. What’s the worst that can happen?

2 thoughts on “Timed Challenges and Why I Love Them

  1. Relevant tip: If you Google “timer 20 minutes” (or however many you need), the search results page will automatically start a timer for you.

    I’ve trained myself to draft my blog posts in 15-30 minute timed increments. If I don’t set a timer, I end with little tangible work. In the end, I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing.

    1. Thanks for the Google tip. I’ve always used my phone.

      Sprints, especially when I’m trying to get a particular scene down, are a must. Otherwise, I piddle around and nothing gets done.

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