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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog


-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

336 Hours

That's how many hours there are in a fortnight. Two weeks. Fourteen days. Breaking it down further, you get 20,160 minutes, which is 1,209,600 seconds.

And in that span of time, there are those who will be challenging you (should you choose to accept said challenge) to write a complete screenplay. Yep. One whole script from start to finish, written in just 1,209,600 seconds. This is the charge of the 14 Day Screenplay.

It was started as the screenwriters' response to NaNoWriMo -- National Novel Writing Month. And the next 14 Day Screenplay challenge is set to begin June 3rd and run through the 17th. I will not be participating this time around (I would rather focus more energy on the projects I have going), but I'll say that I support this effort wholeheartedly. I previously wrote a D2DVD-type horror script in just 15 days (and that included a brush-up revision, so it was really completed in 13 or 14 days), and I think it is both a wonderful challenge, a good exercise, and a fun way to get another completed first draft quickly under your belt. I encourage you all to at least consider participating.

So, to that end, I'd like to offer some advice, based on my previous experiences.

1. Planning is everything
I hate the Vicki King model from her (in my opinion) horrendous book about knocking out a script in 21 days by following your heart. I read her book before I embarked on my task and found it to be a sure way of guaranteeing that people will be able to write a lot of garbage in 21 days that will have no chance of ever selling or bringing in audiences. And though this did not exclusively have to do with a lack of planning (I do believe she might have had some outlining in there somewhere), I still felt this was the appropriate place to address the book.

Regardless, in my experience, the best way for you to truly succeed in getting this script written in 14 days is to plan as much as possible in advance. At the time, the outline I used for that script was one of my more detailed to date. Not just a scene-by-scene outline, but even a rough page breakdown. Since then, I've gone further in outlining on my next script. But the reason it is so important on a 14-day screenplay is that you have lost/removed the luxury of time, and thus you can't afford to explore or think about different possibilities. If you do, you won't have time to complete the entire thing in the allotted time.

Which also brings me to my next tip.

2. Don't edit as you write
This is true always in screenwriting, but particularly true in a 14-day script. One of the easy and most dangerous ways to procrastinate is by editing and tweaking what you've already written. This is because while we're doing it, we can convince ourselves that we aren't wasting time. We're actually "improving" the script. Of course, all we're really doing is avoiding completion.

Thus, for a 14-day screenplay you have to take this to the extreme. The goal is not to have a perfect script at the end of those 2 weeks, and in fact, it would be shocking if you did. Remember that all you're really trying to do is complete a solid first draft. Nothing else. The reason this ties into the last point is that by sticking to your outline, you might actually find that you structure things poorly. Unless this is a truly simple fix, you should still, in my opinion, stick with your plan, and just make note of the proposed changes for your revision.

3. Make sure you have enough time
When I did my quick script, I specifically chose a period of time in which I knew my other work would be slow. Thus I was able to dedicate a solid block of time each day to the screenplay. And to knock out a rough first draft, it doesn't even take that long. Of those 360 hours (15 days)? I'd estimate that I actually worked under 50 of them. Now mind you, this was a very rough draft of a relatively mindless screenplay (though I did aim to bring some quality into it). Depending on the type of script you're trying to write, the complexity of the story, and the type of writer you are, you might require significantly more time (or perhaps even less). But ultimately you need to figure out how much time you can afford to dedicate, protect it, and determine if that is enough to accomplish your task.

4. Odds and ends
A few other tips that are worth throwing out there, though they really apply in general to ways to avoid procrastination and more effectively use your time (now if I could only follow my own advice). I love the well-known tip of finishing your writing session in mid scene, or even in mid sentence. It really works as a way to motivate you to get back to it the next session, and to kick-start your thought process when you do return.

Disconnect the Internet. Don't check email or allow your email program to notify you that you've received mail. Then you'll be tempted to check it. Turn off IM. Put an old-fashioned, physical, bound dictionary and thesaurus next to you, so you aren't tempted to check dictionary.com as you write. On a related note, you can uninstall all the games from your computer. If FreeCell beckons, you may be tempted to play it instead of writing. Similarly, don't blog. Either stop blogging for the two weeks, or only do it at times of the day that won't interfere with your writing time.

Recognize the plateaus your brain experiences. You will lose focus. You will not be able to work straight through certain periods. That's okay. It is normal. Allow yourself to step out for fresh air, but make sure you come back. Set a reminder alarm if you have to. Another good technique is to shift between two tasks that need to get done. So that when your mind is resting from writing, for example, you actively work on researching some things you needed to look up. That way, since your mind is occupied with a different kind of task, it is better able to move off the plateau. Then, when you've had enough with the second task, you shift right back into the first, recharged.

All of these tips are actually good for anyone writing anytime. Not just for a 14-day script. But they are brought into sharp relief when you take on such a challenging task. I wish you all luck during those 20,000+ minutes, and keep us posted!

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Blogger Ralphie said...

Is this a blog post or a song from "Rent"?

Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all two weeks.

1:54 AM  
Blogger oneslackmartian said...

Oh, man, I saw your title, and I thought maybe they were playing seasons of 24 back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back.

But you mean the SW Fortnight!

Thanks for the tips. “Disconnect the internet” might be the most valuable. What I treasured the most about the last Fortnight was that it was two weeks where everyone understood to leave me the HELL alone.

2:56 AM  
Blogger Twixter Scripter said...

Thanks for the tips. I'll be subjecting myself to the tortures of the 14 Day Screenplay. I'm thinking of starting a betting pool with friends on whether or not I'll actually get as far as FADE OUT:. I don't think the odds are in my favor.

Another helpful tip might also be to turn the cell phone off.

5:55 PM  
Anonymous Daniel said...

Mmmmmm.... mo-o-o-o-ot-i-i-i-iva-a-a-ati-i-i-io-o-o-on!

Seems like a really brilliant plan! I wish I'd known about this two weeks ago – I just started on a new screenplay, an adaptation of a historical fiction novel. Is being 19 pages into a screenplay already going to disqualify me?

(The site says no; I'm tempted to go ahead and try, even though it might be a little bit of cheating... I'll just postpone any more actual writing in favor of planning and outlining for another week!)

This'll give my procrastinatory tendencies the swift kick in the pants they so richly deserve.... BUAHAHAHAHA!

11:16 PM  
Blogger oneslackmartian said...

no hard and fast rules there, daniel. Best Case: a finished screenplay at the end of 14 days. Shirk other duties and deadlines for two weeks and live the life of a screenwriter with a deadline.

1:10 AM  
Blogger Bonnie said...

Okay, you made it sound too cool.

I'm in!

1:21 AM  
Blogger Sal said...

Just found out about this 14 day screenplay thing, and it sounds mad - but I did Nano two years ago and that was mad, so maybe I'll just do this too. And I like your hints generally, not just for this manic writing thing.

12:13 AM  
Blogger Kid Sis said...


* insert Anakin's Frankenstein scream here *

10:27 PM  

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