Ready, set…WRITE!

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been doing writing sprints with a couple of my critique partners. We agree on a time, e-mail each other a minute or two ahead of it, then write without stopping for 45 minutes. I set use the timer on my phone and more often than not, the ringing startles me out of a deep, trance-like place. Also, more often than not, I have a fresh word count in the vicinity of 1K. After the sprint, we check in and share our progress, then my regularly scheduled writing time resumes.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure this was working for me at first. I’m a fogwalker, so I always write stream of consciousness and I write fairly fast. But not this fast. (I think it’s my competitive nature. My CPs are machines, and I don’t want to look bad when I report my word count!)

In a normal writing session, I don’t leave the sentence I’m on until every word feels perfect (at least for the moment). And I don’t leave the paragraph until I feel it’s expressing exactly what I mean in precisely the right cadence. If I can’t find that right word or cadence, or if I need a bit of information/research to round something out, I stay right there with that sentence/paragraph until I’ve figured everything out.

During a sprint, I leave blanks. I type in empty parentheses or underscores, I write WHAT ELSE? and keep on moving on. Afterwards, there’s generally a good half hour of clean-up, and you might wonder…am I really coming out ahead in the long run?

I believe I am, and here’s why. Sprints kick my brain into high gear. They get me to the desk no matter what, because if I’ve made a commitment to someone else, I will not break it. They keep me from wandering off to check my e-mail when the story feels bumpy or rough, and when I’m writing that fast, there’s no time to get bored with myself and decide I need to take a break and read some blogs. Also, removing my internal editor and my detail obsession (and its sidekick, research addiction) from the equation makes for pure character voice and plot-driven writing. It gets me forward momentum, and the layers are so easily added in once the bones are on the page.

My favorite sprints are the early morning sort, the ones at the very beginning of my writing day. They’re better than a triple-shot latte, and I end up riding the buzz at least until lunchtime. Then, if I can get one of my partners to meet me at one, the remainder of my writing day is equally productive.

Can’t I sprint on my own, you ask? Of course. But what fun is that? Misery loves company, but so does joy – and I love knowing that I’m not working alone for a change. That up in B.C. or way out in upstate New York, one of my friends is churning words onto the page just like me. It’s like having a pal meet you at the gym; you’re both doing your own thing, but you’re in it together.

Tell me, writers. Have you tried sprints or the Twitter version, #1K1hr? If so, how does it work for you?

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17 responses to “Ready, set…WRITE!

  1. “In a normal writing session, I don’t leave the sentence I’m on until every word feels perfect (at least for the moment). And I don’t leave the paragraph until I feel it’s expressing exactly what I mean in precisely the right cadence. If I can’t find that right word or cadence, or if I need a bit of information/research to round something out, I stay right there with that sentence/paragraph until I’ve figured everything out.”
    I can relate to that 100% and am struggling to continuously write for at least 15 minutes without editing. When you sprint write, though, do you write on specific scenes or topics or just freewrite?

  2. I’m usually writing the next scene in my WIP but if you’re really struggling with you internal editor, doing some shorter sprints (say 20 minutes, just to push your natural boundary) from prompts or as a general freewrite might be helpful – especially if you’re just writing flash fiction or something that is just for you. Knowing no one else will ever see it takes the pressure off, removes “performance anxiety” from the equation. Or it should! 🙂

    Good luck!

  3. I love the sprint (which I always have to correct as my fingers write it as spring every single time) – and that’s why. I never back out of a commitment either, but it’s a way to spring back into the story without stopping to think about something else . But it’s easy to get distracted and I just won’t allow myself to do that. Even when I don’t have a partner, I keep writing for those 45 minutes.

    Kate

  4. Interesting process, Lisa. I’m not one for partnerships, but I’ve gotten into a 100-word song challenge — writing 100 words based on a song. It’s not a sprint as it’s over a one-week period, but it’s good discipline.
    eden

  5. I did sprints back when I was participating in NaNo, but they don’t work for me. The pressure of a clock ticking down is way too much for my brain to handle and I find my writing quality suffers.

    *grins* Of course, as you know Lisa, when I’m left to my own devices I crank out a darn good word count anyway, so normally I don’t feel the need to turn to something like this to push me along.

    K

  6. Ha! The sprint is a totally new concept for me. I’m fascinated. It might just be what I need to maintain the momentum when my writing lags.

  7. I first discovered sprinting, as you call it, (writing exercises), in a writing class in in 1995 under the tutelage of Robert Ray & Jack Remick (who write The Weekend Novelist) and later pursued the practice at Louisa’s Cafe & Bakery; where Bob and Jack met with from 10 to 20 writers ranging from newbies to pros. We wrote a start line and threw it into a hat. A start line was drawn out, the timer was punched and everyone wrote as fast as they could for 10 min.s, then read what we had written to everyone. Then we did it all over again and again. It was as though my mind was somehow released–jumped the trace. I was on wave, as Jack calls it, a mystic wave. I had no control, I was freewheeling; stuff was pouring out of my brain, through my pencil onto the page–good stuff, exciting stuff. When you get stale, bored, bogged down, these types of writing exercises can rejuvenate you, kick your muse in the ass, jump start you.

    Wally

  8. Absolutely, Wally. And when you’re applying it to a story in progress, it really does free your subconsicous to take the wheel. If you derail or crash, there’s always the delete key…

    Lisa

  9. I don’t usually do sprints with other people, but I have a program called Write or Die and I LOVE it. You set a time limit and a word goal and you just start typing away. There’s a setting for how long you can take without typing something with different consequences ranging from a pop-up urging you to write more to an annoying noise to Kamikaze Mode which starts to delete what you’ve already written. There’s also a Word War feature which allows you to do sprints with other WoD users.

  10. I don’t do sprints but when I’m seriously working on a new project, (as opposed to editing and revising), I make sure my critique partner knows it. She’s the one who holds my feet to the fire, and you’re right — just being accountable to another person makes it more likely you’ll follow through and do it.

  11. I’m pretty good with self-made deadlines, but I do love having partners to cheer me on!

    Lisa

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