If you’re a writer and you’re on Twitter, there’s a good chance you’ve seen posts about word sprints.
I was first introduced to word sprints – also known as writing sprints – when I took part in my first National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). During the month of November, the NaNoWriMo Twitter account is always abuzz with word sprint posts to help participants meet their daily writing goals.
I’d often see these word sprint posts but wasn’t sure what a sprint was or how they could help me. Writing for 15 minutes seemed barely enough time to get started. I participated in a few word sprints hosted on Twitter by The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University. They were a lot of fun, but I still wasn’t sure how to use them to meet my writing goals.
Then I started following popular YA author Sarra Cannon on YouTube and participated in a writing sprint challenge she led. This is when I learned the true value of word sprints and how they can help meet and even exceed daily writing goals.
What Is a Word Sprint?
During a word sprint, you do nothing but write. The sprint is timed, and you can do several sprints back-to-back with short breaks between them, or spread your sprints out during the day. You want to write as much as possible during the short sprint time.
Word sprints can be any length—I’ll explain how to find your optimal sprint time—but the times that work best seem to be 10, 15, or 20 minutes. It’s important to take a short break between sprints, so that each successive sprint is as productive as the previous one.
The Psychology Behind Word Sprints: Parkinson’s Law
Parkinson’s Law states that a task expands to take up the time allotted to the task. We’re human, and if we know we have an hour to do something, we will take an hour to do it. But a person who writes 500 words an hour can accomplish the same result during a 20-minute word sprint.
Yes, word sprints are that amazing!
When you know you have an hour to write, you will write at a leisurely pace for that hour, knowing you will reach your average hourly word count like you always do. Timing yourself during a sprint adds a new dimension. You can’t stop and think about your writing or edit your work as you go.
I know what you’re thinking: If I can’t think about what I’m writing or edit as I go, isn’t what I write going to be worthless? Not at all. That’s why you need to make sure you prepare for your word sprints.
Preparing for a Word Sprint
Because a word sprint involves typing as fast as you can for 15 or 20 minutes, it’s important to prepare for your sprint ahead of time. Decide what you want to write about. If you are continuing to work on a novel you started last month, then make sure you read the last scene you wrote, so you can keep moving forward on that project during your writing sprint.
If you’re the kind of writer who likes to have notes to work from, prepare your notes before the sprint. And if you like to edit as you go, before the word sprint, edit the last section you wrote so you can mentally prepare for the sprint.
How to Find Your Optimal Sprint and Break Time
Here’s where the fun begins. Every writer has their own preferences for how they write their best, and word sprints are no different.
Take a week to experiment with sprint and break times. Make sure you take notes including the length of the sprint and break, and how many words you wrote during the sprint. You may also want to try different things during your breaks to see how that impacts your productivity (jumping jacks, listening to music, staring out the window).
These are some common sprint and break times you can try:
- 10-minute sprint followed by a 5-minute break, repeated three times for 1 hour total time
- 15-minute sprint followed by a 5-minute break, repeated twice for 1 hour total time
- 20-minute sprint followed by a 10-minute break, repeated once for 1 hour total time
Create your own sprints to test, too.
Another way to find your optimal word sprint time is to set a stopwatch and write until you feel your attention fading. Then stop the stopwatch and check how long you wrote for. Try this a few times. Do you find your attention waning around the same point? For me, it’s usually 22 minutes.
If you’re used to tracking your word count per hour, you can convert each sprint word count to an hourly count by starting with 60 (there are 60 minutes in an hour), dividing by the length of your sprint, and multiplying by your word count. For example, if you sprinted for 22 minutes and wrote 446 words, you calculate your hourly word count as:
(60/22) x 446 = 1,216
If you test my calculation, you will see it actually comes out as 1216.36. But, since a fraction of a word doesn’t count, drop the numbers after the decimal.
What About Optimal Writing Times?
Many writers know when they write the best, but if you don’t know, then another part of your word sprint experiment is to try a set of sprints in the morning, afternoon, and evening (preferably on separate days). Remember to make notes so you can see your best results when you’re finished experimenting. You’ll use these notes to plan your sprints and meet your daily writing goals.
Why Set Daily Writing Goals?
Whether you write for a living or want to complete a novel to see if you can do it, you will be more likely to accomplish your goals if you write them down. Breaking a hefty goal like writing a novel into smaller, daily writing goals makes it more manageable.
Thanks to NaNoWriMo, many novelists are preparing to write 50,000 words this November. If you’re taking part and know you’ll be able to write every day during the 30 days of November, that’s 1,667 words per day, a much more manageable number than 50,000.
Daily writing goals are also helpful when you fit your writing time in around all the other things in your life. For example, let’s say you want to participate in NaNoWriMo but you plan to spend the weekends with your family. There are nine weekend days in November, so you will only have 21 days to meet the 50,000 NaNoWriMo word-count goal. That works out to 2,381 words per day.
Using Word Sprints to Meet Your Daily Writing Goals
Now that you know how to use word sprints, you can calculate your daily writing goal in terms of numbers of sprints. When the numbers don’t work out evenly, it’s always best to round up to give yourself a bit of a cushion.
Using our previous examples, if your daily writing goal is 1,667 words and you average 446 words per sprint, that’s just four sprints per day. If you want to take the weekends off and hit 2,381 words on your writing days, you will need to complete six sprints per day.
Word sprints take your large daily writing goal and break it down into smaller, more achievable parts. In productivity terms, this is called chunking. It can be overwhelming to think of writing over 2,000 words per day, especially if writing is something you do alongside your day job. But if, instead of looking at the overall goal, you think about fitting six 22-minute sprints in throughout your day, meeting that goal becomes a lot more possible.
There are so many ways to schedule your sprints. You can do them back-to-back with breaks, or spread them throughout your day, e.g. two in the morning, two on your lunch break, one before dinner, and one before bed.
I hope you’ll take the time to experiment and see what word sprint length works best for you, so you can put them to work in meeting your daily writing goals. You may not have the luxury of being able to schedule a writing sprint during your optimal writing time, but with a little experimentation, you can put this writing productivity tool to work and start achieving your daily writing goals.
The key to any strategy is execution. Now that you know how word sprints can make meeting your daily writing goals a breeze, it’s time to put this strategy to work. You can do it! Go out there and slay your writing goals!