What is a Writing Sprint?
Writing sprints are timed writing sessions of usually 15-60 minutes where writers try to achieve a specific word count or write as many words as possible. Just like running sprints, writing sprints aim to maximize results in minimal time.
We are going to explore exactly how to do just that…every time.
Why Writers Do Writing Sprints
There are many reasons why a writer might conduct a writing sprint.
Check out the most common reasons below.
Necessity. Many writers do sprints out of necessity because their writing time is severely limited. Many writers have full-time jobs, families and other responsibilities that shrink writing time down to a few hours or a few minutes per day.
Achieve goals. Writing sprints work wonderfully for quickly catching up to or reaching word count goals. Some writers aim to write a specific number of words per day (like 3,000). The speed of writing sprints helps them reach these goals at a rapid pace.
Cure Writer’s Block. A writing sprint can be an effective way to break out of a writing slump.
Writing sprints, with their focus on high intensity pace and word count over quality, can be just the kickstart a writer needs to shatter writer’s block.
Maximize Time. Then again, a writer may simply want to maximize their time and their results. Writing sprints create a sense of urgency that can electrify writing. Perhaps a writer wants to finish a chapter of their novel, blog post or some other personal project.
Write Faster. The faster you write, the quicker you finish projects that you can submit to traditional publishing companies, self-publish and/or market to readers. Writing pace is a habit that can be improved by practice.
Participate in Writing Events like NaNoWriMo. Every November during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), hundreds of thousands of writers around the world come together to crank out 50,000 words of a new novel in 30 days. Writing sprints can help writers reach these ambitious goals. (More on NaNoWriMo later :))
Just for Fun. We writers absolutely love writing and take any chance we get to inject a little playful competition and fun into our craft. Writing sprints can be great ways to mix up our usual writing routines, kickstart our morning writing session and, gosh darn it, have a little fun.
Write a Fast-paced Scene or Story Segment. Some scenes in stories are designed as slow burns, moments of respite for our characters or intermissions between climatic peaks of action. Other scenes deliver an immediate, lightning quick pace to drag readers down the page with high intensity drama, action and suspense. Writing sprints can help infuse these scenes with an organic flurry of motion.
Pros and Cons of Writing Sprints
To decide whether or not to do a writing sprint, consider these pros and cons:
- Shut down the editor function in your brain
- Write more words
- Increase writing speed
- Reach word count goals
- Reach goals for number of pages written
- Quality is often sacrificed for quantity
- More editing is often needed
- Writing quickly is often harder than it seems (but not after this post!)
How to Do a Writing Sprint (Best Practices)
Ok, that’s all well and good, but how do you actually do a writing sprint?
Start by deciding whether you want to do a writing sprint alone or as part of an event with other writers. Solo sprints are more flexible because you only have yourself to think about, but tandem sprints or group sprints can be incredibly motivating and fun.
Select a writing goal, usually a set word count or number of pages if you want to complete. Usually this number is between 1,000 and (gulp) 5,000 words.
Next, choose a time limit between 15 and 60 minutes. Obviously, make sure the time limit is reasonable for the goal! You don’t want your hand to fall off. 🙂
If possible, remove all distractions. Choose a quiet place to conduct your sprint so you won’t be disturbed or interrupted by noise or other people. (Of course, some writers thrive off ambient coffee shop sounds or music, so do whatever works best for you!)
Prepare your writing tools. Gather your pencils, pens, paper, timer, laptop, writing software or apps, etc. It’s a good idea to have backup writing tools and to ensure that your computer is fully charged with a charging cable available in case you need it.
If you are using a timing device like an egg timer, get that ready and ensure that it is fully charged or has batteries with backup batteries available.
Make a writing plan. Either have a prompt (or series of prompts) ready or create an outline for the scene, chapter or sequence you want to write. A little bit of preplanning can make all the difference in your pace during a sprint.
Choose a time of day when you know that you will have high energy and fewer distractions. Some writers write best in the mornings, others do better at night. If you have a choice, pick the optimum time for your sprinting.
If you want extra accountability, start your writing sprint by posting “Starting a 30-minute writing sprint” on one of your social media sites (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook) with the hashtag #writingsprint.
Before you start, double check one last time that you have everything you need to do your writing sprint. Preparation is critical to a successful sprint.
Once you are ready, start your timer. As soon as you start the timer, start writing and don’t stop until the timer stops. Don’t pause to consider word choice. Don’t stop for a sip of water (or wine). That can wait. Don’t think about what to do next (hopefully, you have planned it out earlier, so just implement your plan). It doesn’t matter what you write as much as that you keep your fingers or hands moving and words going down on the page or screen.
You can always edit your writing later. But, as the famous writing quote goes, “You can’t edit a blank page.”
Stop only when the timer goes off. Then celebrate your successful sprint (and motivate others) by posting your word count achieved on social media and in any group forums if you are participating in an event.
Finally, record your sprinting session to track your progress. You can create an Excel or Google spreadsheet, or simply use this one I have already created for you: Writing Sprint Spreadsheet (download).
Best Tips for Successful Writing Sprints
- Be prepared. Nothing slows down a writing sprint more than realizing at the last moment that you don’t have the materials you need.
- Plan your writing. If you spend time during your sprint planning what to write, you are wasting valuable time that you could be getting more words down on paper or the screen. Making a plan can sometimes double or triple your writing speed.
- Focus on movement. Writing sprints are all about quantity over quality. whatever you do, don’t stop writing until the timer goes off.
- Write to questions or prompts. This is a hack of experienced sprinters. It’s usually much easier to write answers to questions or in response to prompts than to come up with what to say next.
- Record and track your writing sprints. You can easily use an Excel or Google spreadsheet to record your word count and track your progress over time. If you want to use a super easy, done-for-you spreadsheet, you can use this tool (download). What you measure, you achieve and improve.
- Find a sprinting buddy. Just like with running, sprinting is easier with friends. Accountability can mean the difference between consistent, successful sprints and failure to improve writing speed or meet word count goals.
When to Do a Writing Sprint
There are certain times where writing sprints can be extremely useful.
- When you have writer’s block
- When you only have a limited amount of time to write, like a 15 to 60 minute lunch break
- When you are participating in NaNoWriMo
- When you want to increase your writing speed
- When you want to reach a specific word count goal by a specific time
- When you want to break out of editing mode
Where Can Writers Do Writing Sprints?
You can do a solo writing sprint anywhere, anytime. There are also lots of places where writers can do writing sprints together. Sometimes the camaraderie, accountability and connection of sprinting with other writers can not only be more effective but also much more satisfying.
Popular places to do writing sprints with other writers
- Your writing group (Don’t have one? Join one online or check out the MeetUp app to potentially find in-person writing groups in your area)
When doing a writing sprint, or if you want to follow along with other writer’s sprints, use these hashtags:
- #1k1hr (announce that you will write 1,000 words in one hour)
- #Nanosprint (hashtag for sprinting during NaNoWriMo)
- #wordgrab (sprinters sometimes use this hashtag)
- #wordscrim (a 30-minute race with other writers with winner bragging rights :))
- #wordmongering (30-minute word sprints every hour on the hour)
- #writersdash (15-minute writing sprint using prompts)
- #writenow (some writing sprint hosts use this hashtag to track participants)
The Ultimate Tool Guide for Writing Sprints
You don’t need any special tools for writing sprints. However, some writers prefer certain writing instruments, focusing apps and sprinting software. The right tools can make sprinting more comfortable, convenient, successful and fun!
Consider the following list of tools:
- Writing utensil like a pencil or pen (Honestly, my favorite pens are the cheapo ones at the dollar store. They leak ink onto my fingers but they write soooo smooth)
- Sleek, tactile and comfy laptop or desktop computer (word sprinting is already hard. Your computer shouldn’t be).
- Timer (an egg timer or timer app on your phone will do).
- Writing Sprint Super Spreadsheet to record and track writing speed and growth. Automatically updates your progress!
- Voice to text app or software. (Optional. I typically use the built-in feature on my Google Pixel 3 phone direct to my notes app. Then I click a button to upload the draft to Google Docs for later editing and transfer to my website or Word). Google Docs also has this feature for free!
- Focus apps or distraction free software (see separate list below)
- MyWriteClub Word Sprints (to run writing sprints and track progress online)
- 5,000 Words Per Hour (iOS app)
- Pacemaker (online software for goal setting for writers)
- WritingStreak.io (an online sprinting tool with timer and tracker)
6 Awesome Apps to Help You Focus When Sprinting
Some of these online or mobile apps are free and some are paid. Personally, I have not used any of them, but some writers really like them, so I didn’t want to leave them out. Feel free to click through them to see if any of them might work for you.
- LeechBlock (Block websites while browsing)
- Freedom (Blocks distractions on all of your devices)
- Focus Booster (Currently a free digital Pomodoro method app)
- Cold Turkey Blocker (Schedule complete system-wide blocking)
- Serene (If you like to plan your focus sessions, you’ll like this app. It’s currently only available on Macs but the website says it is coming to Windows soon)
- SelfControl (Free open source software for Macs. It’s also the most intense option for when focusing is mission impossible)
NaNoWriMo and Writing Sprints
Writing sprints are an embedded and integral part of the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) culture.
If you’d like to participate in NaNoWriMo, simply follow these steps: (Also, check out the screenshots below the steps)
- Go to the NaNoWriMo website
- Click on the button to sign up
- Fill in your profile information
- Click the Sign up button
- Get ready for an exciting and intense month of writing sprints!
Want to be more prolific? Read How To Write Like Danielle Steel
Remember, NaNoWriMo is in November with October preparations (adorably called Preptober). Sign up as early in the year as possible!
Writing Sprint YouTube Soundtracks
Many writers swear by writing to music, including Stephen King, who reportedly writes to head banging rock music.
Check out these two 20-minute YouTube videos for writing sprint soundtracks:
Simply play the video when you are ready to start your sprint. Write along to dramatic music.
If you are more in the mood for hopeful music (or this “sound” is better for the scene, chapter or story you are writing) try this second writing sprint video.
Writing Sprint Prompts
If you don’t already have a planned writing topic, I’ve put together a good starter list to get your creative juices flowing. Just pick one of the prompts at random, or go through all the prompts one at a time. If you run out of ideas of what to write for one prompt, simply switch to the next prompt even if it’s not obviously connected. Don’t slow down and whatever you do don’t ever stop until the timer goes off.
1. Write about your biggest fear
2. Write about something funny that happened to you
3. What’s the worst date you’ve ever been on?
4. If you could have breakfast with one person from history, who would it be and why?
5. How would you get away with murder?
6. Write about two enemies that are trapped in an elevator together.
7. Write about a big secret.
8. Write the story of your first kiss.
9. Write a scene that is all action and no dialogue.
10. Write the most over the top setting description you can.
11. Write about a loss.
12. Write about the biggest surprise of your life.
13. What are you absolutely passionate about?
14. If you could change anything in the world, what would you change? And why?
15. If you had to give up one of your five senses, which one would you give up and why?
16. What’s the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you?
17. Write about time travelers who end up in the wrong place.
18. Write about two people who mistakenly end up on the wrong blind date.
19. If you could go back to your 10-year-old self, what would you tell the younger version of yourself?
20. What are the things you couldn’t live without?
21. Open the dictionary to three random words and create a story.
22. Write about a mistaken identity.
23. What’s one of your favorite memories?
24. Explain why Disney is run by the Illuminati.
25. Where do you want to be in 5 years and how are you going to get there?
The Sign of an Experienced Sprinter
The sign of an experienced sprinter is consistency. Consistent writing. Consistent recording and tracking of your progress. Consistent growth. However you get them done, I believe writing sprints can be your secret weapon to power your writing to the next level.