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.