Reflections on 28 Plays Later, 2021
This was the first time I’d taken on this challenge, to write 28 Plays in the 28 days of February. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It wouldn’t be much of a challenge if it was now, would it?. My brain did, at times, try to resist and procrastinate, to make it easier for me. Which made it more difficult and stressful as the deadlines approached. Stupid brain.
I didn’t think of doing stats until the end of the challenge. Which created more work for me as I had to go back through all my writing to collect data. If I ever find myself crazy enough to do this again, I will keep track as I go along. Hang on, brain, wait! What? What do you mean, again?
The long and short of it
I did, thankfully, manage to write a whole play every day. Even if it was a short one. The total words I wrote over the 28 days of the challenge (excluding the Audio Walking Play I was writing simultaneously) was 25,711. That soon added up. I kept a list of all the play titles as I went along and listed them on this 28 Plays Later blog post.
The very shortest was an odd, poetic monologue that was 175 words long. The longest was 1770 words. I wrote 141 pages. The shortest play was the monologue, which was one page. The longest plays were 10 pages long. The average was around 5 pages.
I tended not to break my plays into many scenes. Most only had one, with characters mostly staying put in the one scene. So I wrote a total of around 50 total scenes, averaging at almost two per play. Having had my previous work criticised for having too much of a screenplay feel, I think I may now be unconsciously squashing things together into one to compensate. I suspect that some plays could be split and expanded upon in the future.
Every Character Counts
I created 89 new characters. Possibly 90 if I count the frog, who didn’t technically have any lines. But he was still there, so that counts right?
Some I totally invented. Some, because of the brief, were stolen from history, some were deities real and imagined. One or two were dead. Some were duplicates. One was even called Kate, before the Kate invasion (Private 28 Plays Later inside joke).
For most characters, I did try to take the time to give them a name. Although some did not have one, because I simply didn’t have time to think about it. If I feel a conversation/story brewing and I need to get it out of my brain asap, I will just label a character A, B, C etc initially or ‘Man’, ‘Woman’, ‘Child’, just so that I don’t get hung up on what their name is.
I get the dialogue out and then I go back. Otherwise, I can waste time deciding what I feel they are called, only to realise that I’ve lost the spark of inspiration and the flow I needed to get their story out of my head and onto the page/screen. I just need to write first and think later. Sometimes, it really didn’t matter because they were titled only by their job role or description e.g ‘Security Guard’ or ‘Monkey God’. 28 characters were undefined as either male or female. There were 26 male characters and 41 female characters.
I found this playwriting challenge more difficult than the screenwriting one I took part in last October. I have been trying to reflect on why this was.
I got some harsh critical feedback on the first draft of a full-length play that I’ve worked immensely hard on, as well as rejections. That knocked my confidence at the beginning of the year and set the bugaboos into bullying my brain squirrels into submission.
I also became adept at using any distraction as a reason I could not possibly write. In the first week, I was trying to fit writing around roleplay work so I was stressed from the starting block. Then, on weekends, I was busy with my grandchild, even if she was a whole level of the house away.
Would I use the time I wasn’t writing to refill the well? Find some inspiration? Read up on things related to the day’s brief? Well, to be fair on me, yes, sometimes I did. But I also spent time not doing what would be useful. Then getting stressed at myself because I should have done better. And I would. The next day. Or maybe the next day or the day after that.
The ticking clock
The playwriting challenge felt more intense than the screenwriting challenge. The screenwriting lasted 14 days and I felt like giving up toward the end of that, so I knew 28 days was going to be a marathon.
Most plays I wrote felt rushed. Not really surprising. Obviously, one day is not enough time to write an epic masterpiece of Shakespearean proportions. It didn’t help when I procrastinated and left myself with less time than I could have had.
Then I was convinced that everything that I wrote was utter rubbish. It’s only going through afterwards, accumulating stats and making sure that each play was whole and complete (even though I knew they were but, you know, Bugaboos) that I realised not all of them were as bad as I thought. And some, that I thought were awful at the time, were actually okay-ish.
There was a constant war in my head. the bugaboos lied to me. About time, about my ability. I am sure it was doing it for the best. Trying to stop me. Trying to get me to leave this challenge the heck alone and protect me from the anxiety and panic that I would have as another speeding deadline zoomed towards me at superspeed.
Money, money, money
Unlike Scripty Writing, which I took part in for free, for this challenge I put money into the pot. In the middle of a pandemic lockdown with not much financial wiggle room, this was super-risky for me. I don’t have money to burn and I needed to get it back at the end. As if taking part in the challenge wasn’t pressure enough, I liberally stirred the fear of not getting my money into the fear pot.
I can’t do this …
…I’m rubbish. I’m an actor, not a playwright.
Which is obviously wrong. I can write. But brains can be mean. Some days I wrote well. Other days I felt like I should have scribbled my play in crayon. Some days were just better than others.
One day the brief would land at 10pm and it would spark something instantly. I would scribble down notes excitedly and couldn’t wait to wake up and start writing. Sometimes even reaching bleary-eyed for my phone in the middle of the night to make additional notes that popped into my head in that dream state between being awake and sleep.
On other days, I would despair at the brief and just not want to do it at all and dread getting up the next day to have to flog a play out of myself. And to be honest, on some days, I just ignored the explicit instructions and wrote another play entirely. I wrote what ever came out, because otherwise, I would have been at risk of not meeting the requirement to get a play written that day. Those were mostly the worst days for procrastination for me, I think.
Oddly enough though, on reading back on a couple of plays as I tried to pull some stats together, it seemed that some of the briefs that I struggled with most but endured, that I thought were the worst, actually didn’t turn out as badly as I thought at all.
28 Plays Later was one heck of an achievement, in the face of my rebellious resistance to the briefs and routine. Well worth all the hard work. I made it to the end, so I can get my money back. Plus I have a couple of plays in there that I think I will be able to expand on and take forward in the future.
In the meantime, I’m going to tidy up a couple of the plays I wrote to submit for the 28 Plays Later event at the end of the month. I am very much looking forward to the read-throughs and hearing other people’s work. Now for a rest. Well, I have another audio play to write by the end of the month, but it will be at a considerably less intense workflow.