By Jeff Salter
Before about 12 weeks ago, my only experience with sprinting had been in high school during track practice (one season) and during certain P.E. classes.
When I began to hear/read of writers and authors “sprinting”, I wondered why the heck they’d work that way. I understood the basic notion: write like crazy for a specified period. But I did not comprehend how or why anyone would conduct this exercise together.
Now I know.
It’s extremely productive, cost-effective (in terms of time management), liberating to the creative senses, and a whole lot of enjoyable camaraderie and competition.
While there are numerous small groups of writers sprinting at all hours somewhere, there had developed among a few authors at Astraea Press an effort to “meet” at specified times and compare word counts. Though aware of those activities, I was rather cool to the concept. Then Opal Campbell invited me to sprint one evening. Having received a personal invitation, how could I refuse? [Plus, I’ve never turned down Opal.] So I sprinted.
I selected a romantic comedy I had begun in November 2010, tinkered with briefly, and left at about 2900 words. In other words, barely started. I thought it was an amusing concept but just had not found any time to work on it. [I should clarify that I have at least 75 OTHER starts similar to this; they range from just a page or two of handwritten notes to one story with over 19k words so far.]
For this story, which I’ll simply call A-L-O-S – since I do not reveal my titles until I have a contract – I have sprinted nine times. Average is 1642 words per hour of sprinting. This has added nearly 15k words to a story I had left fallow 33 months ago … and I am very excited about that progress.
On Aug. 1st, I started notes for a brand new story – I think it’s about number 82 on my story log – which I’ll refer to here as T-D-O-E. So, naturally, for the sprint that evening, I figured I should work on T-D-O-E instead of A-L-O-S. So far, on T-D-O-E, I have sprinted three times, adding an average of 1563 words per sprinting hour.
But here’s the exciting news about T-D-O-E — not only have I sprinted for some 4700 words, but I’ve been writing around the sprints and now have nearly 17,500 words on a brand new story which I just began 14 days ago. For somebody who had not written anything new since about August of 2011, I was extremely pleased to find myself making measurable progress on two different stories.
Productive and cost-effective
Several of the authors I sprint with have incredible schedules which include day jobs, free-lance writing or editing, their own writing, family, kids, spouse, pets, community activities, etc. In other words: many of them are totally swamped. If I had schedule loads like theirs, I doubt I could write a dozen words per day. For some of them, an hour of sprinting might be their best opportunity all day to do ANY writing.
Since I’m retired, I have considerably less load on my schedule than most of my colleagues. Yet, I still find myself struggling to get serious about the formula BOTC-FOTK. [There are variations, but it basically means: butt on the chair and fingers on the keyboard.] So these sprints have been wonderful for me — maximize my output with small expenditure of dedicated time.
In a 24-month period, between August 2009 and July 2011, I wrote four complete novels from start to finish. Since then my time has been spent revising, submitting, editing, publishing, and promoting three novels and one short story. But (alas) I’ve written nothing new except for perhaps a dozen ‘starts’ … similar to A-L-O-S, which I just filed away and left alone.
Camaraderie and competition
The way we handle it, the word count winner this week is the one who gets to specify the day and time of the sprint for the following week. And to announce it, remind folks, recruit people, etc. Plus, that person is responsible for digital refreshments! Ha.
The competition is good-natured and everybody roots for everybody else. I’ve had the top word counts a couple of times and it’s very gratifying. But it’s equally gratifying to see somebody post, say, 1000 words in a given hour and comment that it was her first output all day (or even for several days). We have authors in different American time zones and even regular participants in Australia and the UK. We can accommodate their schedules by letting them sprint at a time available to them and post their word counts with ours. [One of our sprinters writes long-hand, so we wait for her to count her words the old-fashioned way.]
Sometimes we’ll have eight or nine sprinters … occasionally it’s six or seven. This week our combined total was 8116 words in that hour; last week it was 7551 words. Not to shabby for just a small handful of writing fanatics. [We often have sprinters write over 2000 words in that single hour.]
Liberating to the creative senses
In both of the stories I have sprinted on so far, I have found myself – while frantically typing some 1600 words per hour – latching onto entirely unforeseen plot developments or character traits. The flow of the typing seems to release the subconscious to GO places which completely take me by surprise.
One example of this – which won’t be terribly clear without the A-L-O-S context – has given me a completely new sub-plot to explore … one which offers numerous other possibilities for both comedy and dramatic tension.
A more general example is that often (during a sprint) the characters’ dialog will suggest entirely new areas of their relationship that I’m eager to explore.
At any given sprint, the group could be different, but a few authors show up practically every week. Not being certain whether they wish to be identified, I will indicate here their partial names.
[No particular order… and I’m sorry if I left anybody out]: Bridget G.L., Patty S-G, Marti O., Iris B., Wendy K., Jillian J., Elizabeth W., Laura H., Sherry G., Kelly M., Shea F., Heather G., Kay S.T., Samantha C., Jill S.U., Karen M-K, Kim B., and Liz B. And me.
Do you sprint? With whom? When? Do you find it exhilarating as I do?