Word Sprints & How to 'Win' Them
What are Word Sprints?
If you think sprinting is just for runners, I've got great news! There's a writer version that's guaranteed not to give you shin splints! A word sprint (also called a writing sprint) is a short burst of focused writing that takes place in increments anywhere from 15-30 minutes a pop (in reality, you can do shorter or longer, but I find 15-30 to be a good jumping off point).
The 'rules' are simple. Start the timer, start writing, and don't stop until the alarm goes off. There's no time to mess around online, or even go to the bathroom, you just type, type, type until you hear the beep! And if you're sprinting in a group it's typical to share your word count at the end of the sprint. Divulging this info isn't mandatory, but accountability can be an excellent motivator.
Of course, word sprints really aren't about winning . . . there's no trophy, prize, or illustrious title awarded to the person who manages to spit out the most words in a set amount of time, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't treat sprints like a race. There are definitely some tips and tricks to keep in mind, so that when the timer starts for your next spirit, you'll be ready to bolt off the starting line!
After all, 'winning' is all about hitting your goals. And it's usually easier to hit them if you have a plan.
Outline Your Beats:
I find it helps to spend a little time thinking about what you want to accomplish before I sit down. For example: What is this scene's job? This doesn't mean that you need give up your process as a discovery writer and start outlining, but I've found that something as simple as a one line summary helps me stay on task. When I do this ahead of time, I spend way less time staring off into space and it's easier to focus on the goal I've set for the sprint.
Prep Your Workspace:
Do what you need to do. Minimize distractions by logging out of social media, light a candle, fill up on your beverage of choice, and if you write to music, get your playlist ready. Basically, set the mood to get your brain in the zone.
This is a pretty big one, though it's a difficult concept to embrace for us self-proclaimed perfectionists! Placeholders are basically notes that you write to yourself in the manuscript when you get stuck on a scene, but you want to keep moving forward. For example, imagine you're trucking along and you get to a spot where you know you have to write this big meaningful conversation between your main character and their love interest, but you're just not feeling it. That's when the placeholder in brackets comes in handy (I like using brackets because they're easy to search for, but you can also use all caps, or colored font—whatever floats your boat!). In this instance placeholder could be: [add in emotional conversation between MC and LI here]. Type it out and move on as if you'd written the scene. Placeholders are a great way to nail the bones of the story down without getting caught up in the perfectionist's web.
Ignore the Inner Critic:
Judging what you write while you're writing it is one of the biggest time-sucks, and it's something we all fall victim to. While I realize tuning out that voice is way easier said than done, I like to remind myself it doesn't do any good to put the cart before the horse. It's 'draft first, perfect later' for a reason.
If you think sprinting in a group sounds like something you'd like to try, be sure to check out LIVE Word Sprints with YA authors Kim Chance and Megan LaCroix! Kim and I created this space to help motivate and inspire you to make progress on your WIP. We hold upbeat sprinting sessions once a week via Facebook Live (usually Thursday nights) and we'd love to see you there!
And, as always,