Writing in Sprints
Write every day. If you’ve been in a writing community for more than five minutes, you’ve heard this advice. The problem with advice is that it often tells you what to do, but not how to do it. This is
A couple of years ago, on Twitter, I discovered a writing practice called sprinting. A writing sprint means you write, uninterrupted, for a set amount of time, usually an hour. There’s also a word count goal. The most common goal is 1k/1hr – writing 1000 new words in one hour. That’s why it’s called a sprint. The goal is to write quickly without stopping.
That first day, on Twitter, someone tweeted Sprint at 9. Who’s in? and a bunch of followers responded. For an hour, all of those people disappeared from social media and went off to write. At 10:00, the followers returned and reported their word counts.
The simplicity—the orderliness--of one hour and one thousand words seemed brilliant. Reporting in and out made people accountable.
Simplicity + Accountability + One hour of writing = Something I wanted to try.
The next day when the tweet Sprint at 9. Who’s in? appeared, I tweeted back: I’m in. I’ve been in ever since.
Developing a daily writing habit
Endless studies address how long it takes for an alteration in behavior to become a habit. Like everyone else, I have demands on my time. One hour per day devoted to my personal writing is all I can manage, so I’ve learned to make the most of it. Here’s how you can make the most of yours:
1. 1.Think about the time of day when you are most creative.
2. 2. Now consider the time of day when it’s most practical for you to be alone to write.
3. 3. Of those two, choose the time that will work best as your regular writing time.
4. 4. Find a place where you can work without interruption.
5. 5.On day 1, go to the place in #4 at the time in #3.
6. 6. Remove all distractions—TV, phone, Internet, people, pets.
7. 7. If you are part of a sprint community, tweet or post your sprint time.
8. 8. Write for one hour without interruption.
9. 9. Report your word count or progress to your sprint friends, or your cat, or both.
1 10. Repeat #8 on day 2, day 3, 4, 5….21. By day 21, three weeks later, you should be firmly entrenched in a daily writing habit. If you are using the 1k/1hr sprint formula, you may have 21,000 new words in your life
Common questions about writing in sprints
What if you are not writing new words and need to revise? No problem! If you are at the revision or outlining phase, use that time to revise or outline. The same principles apply—work for one hour, uninterrupted, at whatever stage your writing demands.
What if you are not fast enough to get 1000 new words in an hour? 1k/1hr is the optimum. If you add 200 words in an hour, hey, that’s 200 words you didn’t have before. You’re still winning.
What if your work/family schedule doesn’t allow a full hour per day? Do it on the weekends. Do a half hour. Adjust to fit your life, but make it as regular as you can.
Can you sprint more than once a day? Absolutely! Taking a break every hour is good for folks who sit for long periods in front of a screen, but you can sprint in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, or all day.
How do I join a sprint community? On Twitter, you can check out any sprinting hashtag. I sprint every morning at 7:00 and post a sprint thread on my Facebook wall. I have a small but devoted gang of morning sprint friends. We call ourselves the Writing Champions.
What if I don’t know what to write or the blank page intimidates me? Thank you for asking that question! This leads to part 2 of this post:
Using a Journal as a Daily Guide
Every day, before I begin my writing hour, I open a notebook and record what I plan to work on that day. I only have an hour, so my entry is short and to the point: Finish dinner party scene. Or: Write argument in garage between Barry and Joanna. Or: Rework how they found the missing hunting rifle.
Writing down what I plan to write accomplishes three things:
1. It gives me direction.
2. It makes me focus.
3. It eliminates the fear of the blank page.
If you use a daily journal, take care to write only what you can accomplish in the hour ahead. If you record all of the things you need to accomplish, you’re not doing a daily journal entry. You’re listing.
What if you don’t get through the dinner party scene you planned to finish? Record it again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next, until you either finish it or decide to move on.
Like the same place, same time habit, using a journal to write small goals lets you enjoy a mental perk. If your goal is too big, you’ll be unsuccessful, and you’ll end your writing session feeling that way. If your goal is just the right size, you will write that particular scene or moment in the story and your hour ends with an accomplishment. We all like accomplishments, right?
Writing is my favorite thing to do. If I can write for one hour a day, I have had a successful day. Anything else is gravy.
When I'm writing, I set aside a block of time every day to write and I do it. Unfortunately, I'm too slow a typist to hit a thousand words an hour. Three-fifty is my pace.
Excellent advice! My son is back to school next week and I'll have my writing time with no distractions again. It does help to have a schedule and to unplug every other device in the house!
Great advice! The idea of setting doable goals and getting that feeling of accomplishment makes it so much easier to keep going, to keep building on that foundation of achievement.
Alex, slow and steady wins the race. I rarely hit 1000 new words, but if you have a regular block of time when you are working, that's excellent.
Christine, the unplugging part is so key. I used to think I could multi-task. Now I recognize those as distractions. It is so much more productive to do one thing at a time, and do it well.
Madeline, it is so easy to create goals that are impossible. Small, doable goals work so well. You are exactly right!
I've been using my sprint journal since May, Ramona. It really helps me be productive during the times I sit down to write. I think your workshop was the most useful one I've taken at a conference. So glad to see you here today.
As one of Ramona's regular sprinters, I can state without hesitation--it WORKS. Thanks for leading the way, Ramona.
I have just cats to impress, of I can write away most of the day haha
I've never done this. I'm either ON or OFF as a writer, and I'm never sure when that's going to happen. But I think your system is a great way to get those books or whatever on the page.
Love the idea of sprinting. I often get overwhelmed by lofty goals. A short and sweet one hour objective might just keep procrastination at bay.
This is such simple advise. Surely I can manage an hour a day! Like Lee, I'm either on or off. Right now I'm in a off stage, so maybe I need to try this approach.
Short 1-hour bursts would work for me. It seems the older I get, the shorter my attention span.
Susan, thank you so much for the invitation to guest blog here! I'm always happy to bang the sprint drum. I also appreciate your kind words about the conference (Pennwriters). I am scheduled to do that same talk twice more in the coming months.
Annette Dashofy, thank you for popping in! Annette is a regular sprint friend. We stagger awake together every morning on Facebook. For someone like Annette, with books out and a contract for more, a regular writing time every day is a necessity.
Pat, if you can impress a cat, that's very impressive!
Lee and Bish, not everyone can--or needs to--write every day. Some of us are more creatures of habit than others, but when you are "on" I hope you will give the uninterrupted hour a try.
Rachelle, I could do an entire post on self-defeating goals and to-do lists. I think an hour works because it is not lofty, but an hour a day means the story never really leaves your head. I hope you'll give it a try.
Diane, the other good thing about an hour is that you can get up and move when it's over. I like to stand and move once an hour before I atrophy in my office chair!
I'm figuring out my best possible sprint time right now. Looks like it might be 7 to 8 a.m. with a possible noon to 1:00 add on 2-3 days a week. Twenty-one days? I can do that.
All of this sounds great. My biggies is a regular time to write and a schedule.
I ran across the sprinting concept just a few months or so ago. It's brilliant! I also like the writing journal idea. I've just finished reading Elizabeth George's Write Away, and she makes use of a writing journal, too. Great for focusing.
I tend to do everything in sprints - and then meander for awhile. So, this method suits me nicely. Couldn't agree more on achievable goals. Delighted with this posting. Thanks!
Patricia, 21 days seems to be enough time to establish a habit. It worked for me. 7:00 is my time every morning, so you won't be alone.
Ann, if you can find a regular time every day, it becomes so much easier to fall into the schedule.
Nadine, thank you for posting a testimonial for sprinting! The journal is a lifesaver for me. I hope you try it--hey, if it works for Elizabeth George, it has to be a winner.
Marian, thank you for the kind words. I seem to work an hour at a time, and then do the meandering until the next hour.
This sprint method sounds perfect for a flash fiction junkie like me.
I usually write in bursts. But there's no set word count. Well, sometimes there is.
Fantastic tips. Love that image. Printing it out. I'm a believer in no email, social media or any other distractions before writing. Period. I love the journal idea. Will start one tomorrow. Wonderful post! :-)
This is definitely a new concept to me. I never thought of sprint writing before. But it sounds doable. Thank you for sharing this great advice with us.
Michelle, you could - possibly - write a draft of a flash fiction piece in one sitting, depending on the length and how you write. When I'm on a tear, I can get down a lot of words. Other times, the hour ends with fewer words, but it's still progress.
Robyn, I hope you start a journal and find it helpful. It has been nothing but a benefit to me.
Murees, I hope you give sprinting a try. Good luck!
If I have the time sprinting works well for me. But with working full-time, school full-time and trying to have a writing career as well, it gets tough. I write when I have the time, but I think I'm going to start writing on the weekends. Great tips!
Awesome advice. I've been struggling because I can't get a straight 20 minutes without interruption. (Kids, eh?) Time to redouble the efforts.
Writing in Sprints! Love the concept :-) I'd write all day - every day - if I could. Stopping is my problem. But alas, duty shouts and I must...stop...after one more page!
Krystol, juggling real life and writing is a challenge when you have a day job and, especially, children. Hang in there. If a dedicated hour or two on the weekends is all you can manage, embrace that time and make the most of it.
Crystal, as I noted above, when you are in the little children years, it's hard. I kept one toe in the writing world when my family was younger, and it paid off when I had more time. It will happen for you too!
Diedre, writing all day sounds lovely! You don't have to do only one Sprint per day....
Outstanding advice, Susan. Honestly, it makes no sense to have writer's block, unless it's self-imposed.
Thanks, Romona! Great post.
I feel like doing a sprint may help with inspiration but can it really help with technique? I use my blog as a way to write every week day and take breaks on the weekend. The thing I most need right now is help with technique. :-/ I just don't know of any guides or ways to get it aside from paying or reading a textbook. :-/ Any suggestions?
Great advice. An hour seems short and 1000 words a lot, but I like the idea, especially for writers, like me, who have other day jobs. Thank you for sharing :)
Thank you for a giving us some great ideas. I'm not in a sprint community but I do write everyday. I even consider responding to blogs as a part of my writing. However, My best time to work on my manuscript is either early morning or late evening and I write 2000 words a day.
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