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Thursday, February 5, 2015

Word Count Magic- The Sprint

Are you a sprinter? Not the track-and-field kind, but the writing kind. I never was-- until recently.

In the past couple of years, I've had writer friends invite me to "sprint" with them. I didn't take them up on it because I wasn't all-the-way sure how to do it or exactly why I'd need to do it. I write every day already and at a fairly fast clip. I didn't think I needed it. Boy, was I wrong.

Whereas I normally write 800-1000 words per hour, I found that I could knock out up to 2500 words in two 20-minute sprints. And this was writing at night, when I'm usually too brain dead to write anything. It was like word count magic!

Now, these are first-draft words. I'm writing messy, not going back to fix typos or punctuation during the sprint, not worrying about beautiful prose or clever turns of phrase. And that's okay, because first drafts are allowed to suck-- the fancy stuff comes in later drafts. But I've been pretty amazed when I go into my writing sessions the next day at how usable those sprint-born words are. I've hardly had to throw out anything (yet), and these sessions have launched me farther ahead in my WIP than I would normally be at this point in the process.

Here's what finally got me to try sprinting...

The writing community at the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood recently announced their Winter Writing Festival, and Kim Law clearly explained the concept in this sprinting primer.

The Winter Writing Festival is open to anyone who'd like to join the fun and receive the support and encouragement the Rubies are known for. Among other things, they offer several opportunities each day (morning and night) to sprint with other writers. Here's how it works: first, you sign-up. Quick and easy. Then you log in, check out the sprint schedule, which features some amazing writer "hosts" who'll be there firing the starter pistol and writing with you, and click the chat room link in the upper left corner of the page.

That's it-- you're in. Someone (or more likely several someones) will welcome you to the chat room and tell you how many minutes away the next sprint is. There's a little interaction among the writers-- it can get pretty funny in there-- and then the host counts you down, says "GO," and you let your fingers fly for the next 20 or 30 minutes, not stopping for anything, not checking Facebook or Twitter or your phone or the mail, etc. Then everyone comes back into the chat room and reports their progress. It varies among writers. Some are lightning fast- some are slower. It doesn't matter. Everyone's cheering each other on.

It's incredible how much you can get done when your mind is completely focused. Not everyone is working on a first draft. Some are revising, some are addressing copyedits. A friend of mine recently knocked out The Dreaded Synopsis during a sprinting session. For me, the sprints are most productive when I've already written earlier in the day, and I've left off in the middle of a scene or I know where I want the next scene to go-- when I'm warmed-up, so to speak.

But it's not just about word count. Somehow my mind, knowing that it has no time to stop and fret about the small stuff, is more creatively free during sprints. Does that make me sound like a hippy-dippy weirdo? It's hard to explain. I've found that my sprint-words are very dialogue heavy-- I'll go back later and fill in tags and scene blocking and description-- and that dialogue has been going in some very interesting directions. My story is taking turns I hadn't anticipated, and it's fun! It's almost like the internal editor is bypassed because it can't keep up with the speed of the "right brain."

So now I'm a sprint addict. I've sprinted not only with the Rubies now, but with friends who happened to be on Twitter at the same time and suggested a group sprint. I can't seem to sprint on my own. I know my time deadline is a fake one, so it doesn't keep me from "wandering."

But I never have to do it on my own because there are always other writers ready to "3... 2... 1... Go!" with you. Twitter is full of sprinters! A quick search of "writing sprints" revealed these hashtags--    and , and I know there are so many more. And no matter where in the world you are, there's always some writer awake and on Twitter. American night owl? Sprint with an Aussie!

Maybe it won't work as well for you as it has for me. But it's worth trying, right? Trying something new-to-me turned me from sprint skeptic to complete convert. And took me all the way to THE END of the first draft of my current project.

Have you tried sprinting yet? Have I convinced you to give it a shot? Let me know, and maybe we'll sprint together sometime!




  1. That sounds neat. I also have trouble writing at night after work. I'm so brain dead after ten hours of work that I fall asleep at the keyboard. However when I'm on my marks I can average about 2500 per hour.

  2. I'd LOVE to sprint with you! We'll have to do that soon!