The True Payoff of 24 Hour Playwriting Contests

Sunday October 05, 2014

This weekend I took part in Pat the Dog Theatre Creation's annual 24-Hour Playwriting Contest. At 4 pm on Friday Pat the Dog sent out three prompt words that had to be included in the script and the 30 of us who pre-registered had 24 hours to write and submit a new play. This year's words were tattoo, dig, and butter.

I've read interviews with playwrights who enter these contests with a pretty solidly formed idea of what they're going to write about and then find a way to work the words in. I always do the exact opposite, not giving any thought to my play until the moment those words hit my inbox. On the one hand, that means I always end up with a fairly short one-act, but it also means it's a one-act that I never would have created otherwise.

Not surprisingly, my super-short, unplanned plays have never placed in the various time-based contests I've entered, but participation has paid off in other ways. The 2011 Pat the Dog Contest led to the first draft of Flood Control, which was produced two years later. That first draft was expanded on, but retains the prompt words at its core - shift, perpendicular, and water. Right now, I'm re-writing a Theatre for Young Audiences play that I wrote for a Toronto Fringe Festival 24-Hour Contest which, again, I never would have thought of without those prompts.

While it's nice to have complete creative freedom, I find it very useful to see what happens when there are restrictions on both content and time. I'm sure the play I wrote yesterday won't show up in tomorrow's announcement of the winners, but I think there's a good chance a revision of it will show up on a stage somewhere someday, which is, of course, the ultimate goal.

Interested in giving a 24-Hour Playwriting Contest a go?

  • The Toronto Fringe generally holds theirs during the summer festival (July 2-13 this year); check the website for updates.
  • And Pat the Dog's should run again next fall.

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Why I Didn't Write a Novel This Weekend (A Post for Pam)

Monday September 01, 2014

This time last year, I was sleep-deprived and beginning to panic. That's because I was in the final 12 hours of my first 3-Day Novel Contest. A few days ago I received a comment on my 2013 3-Day Novel Contest Wrap-Up from Pam Bustin, a Canadian writer who's been doing the contest since 2008 and was wondering if I was going to be doing it again in 2014.

To answer that, let's just say I happily slept in this morning.


Actually, let's say a little more than that.

It took me years to sign up for my first 3-Day Novel Contest because for me, the Labour Day Weekend is usually family time. Last year was an anomaly, but if I had signed up this year it would have been a two-day contest at best.

But I considered doing it anyway. What really stopped me was an ongoing writing problem I have, which I even mentioned in the CBC interview I did about the 2013 3-Day Novel Contest:

That is the hand of one of my favourite authors, Neil Gaiman. Written on his hand is very good advice. And although I know he leads us all true, I still can't get a handle on that middle bit.

Finish things.

The book I started writing at this time last year sits on my hard drive, barely touched in all those months. And it is not alone.

I'm at a point right now where charging headlong into a draft of something brand new has a definite appeal, but it is the appeal of sugar and shiny things. I have too many works-in-progress that aren't really in progress at all, because I'm puttering and poking at them, rather than digging in.

So best wishes to @PamBustin and everyone else who's in the final leg of the 2014 3-Day Novel Contest. If I can manage a few more "The Ends" in the next twelve months, perhaps I'll start something new with you this time next year.

But for now, GO GO GO!!! YOU GOT THIS!

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Interview with an Earth Ranger: Charlotte's Helping Bring Back the Wild

Friday July 4, 2014

I must have been around nine years old when I grabbed a coffee can and my friend from next door and, clutching a newspaper article about efforts to save the Peregrine falcon, went door-to-door seeking donations. I have no idea how much money we raised that day, but I do remember being intimidated by a barking dog and discouraged by some ill-tempered neighbours.

Earth Rangers logoIt's natural for kids to want to get involved in causes they care about, but sometimes it's rough going it alone. That's why I'm always excited to see ads for Bring Back the Wild, an ongoing campaign from the GTA-based organization Earth Rangers. By signing up with Bring Back the Wild online, kids can safely raise money and awareness to support animals who are threatened by habitat loss. Every year, Earth Rangers identifies four species that are in danger, providing information on the challenges the animal faces and how fundraising* can help. Kids can choose the animal they'd like to campaign for, create a goal, and start spreading the word!

Earth Rangers discourages the kind of door-to-door canvassing I attempted, but they do suggest that parents share Bring Back the Wild campaigns with friends and colleagues. That's how I had the honour of recently contributing to one girl's efforts to save the Western bumble bee...

Charlotte Wants to Help Save Animals and the Planet

Charlotte, Earth Ranger and
Protector of the Western bumble bee.
At eight years old, Charlotte has just finished Grade 3 here in Ontario. She also recently became a Protector of the Western bumble bee, after raising $140 in her first Bring Back the Wild campaign. Charlotte was kind enough to answer some emailed questions about her Earth Rangers experience so far:

How did you first learn about the Earth Rangers? Why did you decide to join?

Charlotte: I first heard about Earth Rangers when they came to visit my school. They came in grade 1, and then again this year. I joined because I wanted to help save animals and the planet too.

There are four animal missions to choose from - why did you pick the Western bumble bee for your Bring Back the Wild campaign [over the Beluga whale, the Barn swallow, or the Blanding's turtle]?

Charlotte: I chose the Western Bumblebee for my Bring Back the Wild campaign because bees are really important for making sure plants grow. Also, I just love bugs!

Do you have any ideas for what you'd like to do next as an Earth Ranger? Or are there other things you're already doing?

Charlotte: Right now, I'm cleaning up garbage in my community to help with the Spring Green Up Challenge. Last year I started a club called "Cleaning up the Earth Crew" at my school. We go around the school yard at lunch and recess picking up any garbage that we find.

What would you say to someone your age who was thinking about joining the Earth Rangers but hadn't made up their mind?

Charlotte: I would tell them that they should join Earth Rangers so that they can help the Earth too!

And finally, a question for Mom. Have you done anything as parents to encourage Charlotte's interest in nature and the environment?

Charlotte's Mom: Charlotte's an amazing kid. She's very passionate and curious, so we try to make sure we support her and give her every opportunity to find out more about the things that catch her interest.

We make sure that we find answers to her questions, we talk to her about things like conservation and recycling, and why those things are important... but really, it's all her.

Congratulations, Charlotte! Thanks for your time, and for helping the Earth.

More About the Earth Rangers

Do you know an amazing kid like Charlotte who'd like to become an Earth Ranger? Visit, which is full of information and activities.

Earth Ranger Andy introduces Animal Ambassador Sonic
the barn owl to an audience at the Royal Ontario Museum.
For adults, more information about the organization is available at, and there's lots to learn on there, too. Bring Back the Wild is a relatively new addition to the Earth Rangers slate of programs. For many years this non-profit has been educating and raising awareness about animals, habitats, and the importance of protecting biodiversity through presentations made with live Animal Ambassadors. Trainers and animals visit schools and take part in special events - there's even a permanent Earth Rangers Studio offering regular presentations in the Schad Gallery of Biodiversity at the Royal Ontario Museum. You can also read about the Earth Rangers Centre for Sustainable Technology in Woodbridge, which serves as both Earth Rangers HQ and as a practical demonstration of conservation ideals in action. 
* According to the Earth Rangers website, 50% of funds raised go to habitat conservation projects and the other 50% goes to support Earth Rangers education programs.

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