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5 Lessons Screenwriters Can Learn from NaNoWriMo

By November 17, 2020No Comments


National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a time for amateur and professional writers around the world to set a goal for the month. Namely, to write an entire novel from start to finish. It’s an ambitious goal, but that’s the whole point of NaNoWriMo. You’re supposed to push yourself to your limits as a writer.

And the best part about NaNoWriMo is that you don’t have to do it alone.

This annual writing marathon (or sprint if you’re optimistic) is a special time for writers. It’s quickly become one of the most popular, and therefore valuable network opportunities to meet and collaborate with other writers and trade advice to help everyone reach their goals. This is particularly important for writers, who aren’t always the most social people.

You might not be on a quest to write the next great American novel, but there’s a lot that screenwriters can learn from NaNoWriMo, even if you’re more concerned with page numbers than word count. Here are five important lessons screenwriters can learn from National Novel Writing Month.

Networking is important

One of the most underrated aspects of NaNoWriMo is the sheer volume of events. Write-ins, meetups, mixers, hangouts, sprints, and a dozen other events are organized for local groups of writers around the world every November. And while this year has seen these events move online thanks to the pandemic, these networking events are still a crucial part of becoming a professional writer, no matter what format you’re writing in.

By communicating through forums or in chat rooms, writers can share their work and discuss and learn from some who may have an answer to a problem in your story. You can’t Google your way out of every corner, and it’s important to remember that writers are part of a larger community of creators. Find your tribe within a tribe and your writing will improve. And not just because you’ll get valuable feedback.

There are even communities you can join that focus on different types of writers (like screenwriters). These so-called “NaNo rebels” can take part in the wider community (and events!) organized by NaNoWriMo to reach a wider audience of writers and readers. While the screenwriting community there is small, it won’t get any bigger without more participation.

Sharing your work and thoughts with other writers will incubate new ideas and broaden your range. Plus, nothing gets you to a deadline on time like accountability.

Screenwriters need accountability

The main goal for 99% of NaNoWriMo writers is to complete the first draft of a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. That means they have to write 1,667 words every single day (including weekends). It’s a daunting goal, but when you break it down into smaller (although still hefty) bites, it becomes achievable. But that’s not why NaNoWriMo works.

The reason so many writers are able to achieve the Herculean feat of writing an entire novel in a month is that they’re part of a community of writers in the exact same boat. You know that everyone else in your area is struggling just like you, and you don’t want to be the first person to miss your daily word count goal.

Posting your daily word count total to a public-facing site does wonders for your productivity, and while screenwriters can’t leverage the same features, finding a way to deliver pages to someone else will increase your writing output.

NaNoWriMo encourages every writer to block out time every day to write. You’ll be amazed where you can fit in some writing. On the subway, waiting for dinner to cook, or those moments you would usually be scrolling through the internet.

Having a network of other writers who are also taking up this challenge can help be a support group of sorts that keeps you on track with your writing. While NaNoWriMo takes place in November, there’s no reason you have to stop using these tactics of word goals and fellow writers. Every month is a good month to write.

Set aspirational writing goals

I know what you’re thinking. 50,000 words? That’s a massive screenplay. And you’re right. You shouldn’t write a 50,000-word screenplay. But you can write one between 7,500 and 20,000 words, which is the average length for a screenplay. That’s only 667 words a day.

Imagine if you could write an entire spec script in a month? And then another one the next month. And the next? The possibilities of that kind of output are exciting.

One of the biggest lessons screenwriters can learn from NaNoWriMo is that it’s ok to just write. You don’t need to craft and edit and rewrite all the time. Every screenwriter is different. Some love detailed outlines, others prefer “pantsing” it. Be true to yourself. But remember that there’s a certain type of value in creating a volume of writing. 

You can even do some freewriting before you sit down to your script just to get the juices flowing. Never delete anything, which you should get into the habit of doing anyway. Store all of your removed sections and scenes into a simple document and count those words up in the end. You’ll never know what you’ll be glad you kept.

Writers like badges

What’s the only thing more fun than finishing a novel in 30 days? Getting an achievement for every milestone that you complete along the way. NaNoWriMo writers get positive feedback for every word count breakthrough they reach. Did you finish that chapter that was stumping you? There’s a badge for that! Made sure to get enough sleep and eat proper meals? Here’s a badge! Finish your first 10,000 words? Here’s a badge!

It’s nice to be rewarded for the simple things that take more effort than they seem. And as writers, we often forget to celebrate our small victories.

If this kind of reward system helps you, create your own badges for when NaNoWriMo ends and make it your goal to collect as many as you can. Maybe have one for going a whole writing session without getting distracted by the internet or one for when you took a break after acknowledging that you burned out. Attaching these achievements to treats is also something I’ve found works for me.

Writers really like rewards

Once writers achieve their goal at the end of November, they receive more than a printed out certificate. “Finishers” get exclusive deals for books, writing software like Scrivener, or even a free or discounted published copy of their book. NaNoWriMo winners are encouraged to keep writing, which is something that screenwriters can definitely learn from.

These deals are the cherry on top of joining a writing community and accomplishing your writing goals. Who doesn’t want a free masterclass or three months free of a writing program you’ve always wanted to try out? All that for the rewarding price of hard work. Tangible, monetary rewards are a big part of building a long-lasting community of writers.

Look for competitions and community events that reward screenwriters just for participating with things like free script coverage, discounts on other competitions, or discounted entry to other screenwriting events.

What screenwriters can learn from NaNoWriMo 

Screenwriters can learn a lot from the success and community building that happens every November. NaNoWriMo has sparked thousands of new writers to create thousands of new stories. When you embrace community, aspirational goal setting, rewards, milestones, and accountability with other writers you set yourself up to succeed. And whether you’re writing a screenplay or a novel, that’s really what writing is all about. 

Ready to take the next step in your screenwriting career? Submit your script to one of our open screenwriting competitions and join the professional screenwriting community.

Beverly Peders is a Screenwriting graduate from Drexel University. She loves all visual writing mediums and has experience in writing plays, comic books, screenplays, TV sitcoms, and video games. Worldbuilding is her favorite and she obsesses over anthropology and linguistics. In her spare time, you may find her trying to get over her fear of heights at a rock wall or adopting yet another plant because she can’t afford an actual pet.

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