The Literal Challenge is a social enterprise that runs a series of epic writing challenges throughout the year. I first heard about them from Enterprising Writer, Janet Howard who completed both 28 Plays Later and Like the Prose (and blogged about them for us) earlier this year. Next month they are running their final challenge of the year, a 14 day screenwriting challenge, called Scriptly Writing. At Enterprising Writers we share the same ethos at The Literal Challenge: just get those bloody words down on the page! They believe that: ‘Writers have to write – good or bad – and that they should churn as much work as possible and experiment with – and challenge their own style and preferences, in order to improve their writing.’ We reached out to Sebastian from TLC  to find out more:

What’s your back story and what inspired you to start The Literal Challenge?

I’m a writer, primarily a playwright. I also work as a director/dramaturg, with a passion for new writing.

A few years ago I encountered a project with a theatre company in the US called Red Theater (sic) Chicago. They used to ran a challenge called November Red Writing Month, in which for 30 days people received a brief and had 24 hours to respond to it.

When I did it, I realised it helped me as a playwright in two very important ways:

1. I had to complete the plays – I couldn’t just give up the moment I didn’t like it or thought it was rubbish, which in turn, forced me to put my inner judgemental voice to rest.
2. I had to send it… to a stranger… with my name attached… that was terrifying, yet liberating.

At the time I was working as the Literary Manager at the Space theatre in London and wanted to share my experience with the writers connected to the Space (and beyond), so I adapted the project slightly and brought it over the Atlantic to the space. The Artistic Director, Adam Hemming, suggested calling it 28 Plays Later, as the sequel to the film “28 Days Later” was filmed just outside the Space, and that’s how it all started.

After running 28PL for a few years, and with the suggestion of the community that started to grow with the challenges, I formed The Literal Challenge, and added more challenges for different writing disciplines – short stories, non-fiction, screenwriting, etc. Last year, we also did one special challenge during the first Covid lockdown that was for any form of writing, called Covid’s Metamorphosis.

How long have you been running the challenges for?

We started 28 Plays Later in 2015, we then became The Literal Challenge in 2019. So far we’ve done 14 challenges.

How many writers have taken part in the challenges so far?

So far more than 3,500 people from more than 80 countries worldwide wrote 70,365 new works.

Are the challenges open to anyone?

Absolutely. They were originally designed for professionals, but we noticed that they give just as much (if not more) to complete novices and anyone with any level of experience. So we have professionals taking part alongside people who have never written anything creative before. People get from it whatever it is they want and need.

Are the challenges free?

The challenges are on a commit what you can basis, and no financial obligation is required.

You run three main challenges throughout the year. Could you tell me a little more about them how they all work?

At 10pm UK time, and every evening throughout the duration of the challenge, writers receive a new brief to inspire them to write and get their creative juices flowing. Then all they need to do is write something.

At the moment we run three challenges for different writing disciplines:
  • 28 Plays Later in February for playwriting
  • Like The Prose in June for short stories
  • And Scriptly Writing in October for screenplays (this one is only 2 weeks long).

Have any of your challenge participants gone on to develop their screenplay or play that they wrote during the challenge into a film or performance?

Yes, we had participants who developed their works further, some into full length plays, some into films and books. Many of the plays written were later produced, published or adapted further. There have been anthologies of short stories, and one novel that has just been released and is doing really well.

What do you love most about running the challenges?

The impact it has on people. It’s amazing to hear how this project has been transformative for some people. One person resigned from her well-paid job to start pursuing playwriting after doing one of our challenges, a couple met in one of our events, and many people have made connections and developed their own little communities that help them along their journeys. Other people have told us that the challenges gave them discipline, confidence or even a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

What has been the most surprising thing about running them?

The interaction with a lot of different writers from all corners of the globe and having them all come together for a challenge. We also have a forum on our website and we try to use the regular social media channels for people to build connections, and it seems to work. That’s pretty exciting to see.

Do you plan to introduce any more challenges?

For the time being, we are quite busy with the three challenges, we were thinking of maybe adding a poetry one, maybe next year though.

You also run other services for writers, including retreats, editing and project development can you tell me more about those? 

Yes, we offer dramaturgy services as well as proofreading/editing and we also help people structure their process in order to achieve their writing goals.

Also, we are partnering with an arts centre in the south of Spain, where we are offering residencies for writers to come, write and interact with artists from a range of different disciplines. You can find out more over on or on our services page.

What plans do you have for developing the Literal Challenge in the future? Would you like to be as big as NaNoWriMo?

We still have a long journey ahead in order to get to where NaNoWriMo is, we hope that over the next couple of years we’ll grow and many more writers will join us.
Are you up for a challenge?  Scriptly Writing starts on the 11th October (Registration closes on the 7th October) and runs for 2 weeks. You can sign up here. Find out more about the Literal Challenge on their website and you can also find them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – all @thelitchallenge
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