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?
We’ve mainly sprinted in late evenings so far, but we’ve just begun discussing possible sprints in late mornings for some of us … and even in the wee hours for others.
“I sprint, therefore I am!” Jeff, I’m amazed how many words you get typed even when I wear my jingling charm bracelet with the bells to distract you.
Seriously, I look forward to the sprint each week. For one thing, I know on that day I *WILL* get some writing done. I love the challenge of writing fast, the friendly competition, and the camaraderie when we finish. I’s great to be a part of a group that is always there to cheer one another on.
Keep those sprints a coming!
LOL. Yes, there was one sprint when Marti could not participate, so she kept sending us messages to distract us. It was a blast.
I now have a clearer idea of what I’ve signed up for and I will make an effort to participate more.
Question: Do you find your sprint is more productive when you have an outline, or at least a clear idea of the scene (leaving room for creative offshoots.)
Another question: Do you do much revision between sprints, or do you just keep plowing ahead and save your revisions for the next draft?
Jill, I don’t have an outline per se … but I do have a more productive sprint if I have gone over the previous pages and thought about where I was heading. And yes, there have been numerous creative offshoots for me, which is one of the reasons I’m so pleased with the spring results. Word count alone might be enough motivation, but to find there are ways to nudge my subconscious is really COOL.
I love the sprinting hour. It “forces” me to sit down and write, I get so easily distracted 😦 ! I’m glad I can join you all once in a while …. it’s fun, and that’s what it’s all about, right 🙂
Great post for our “free” week!
Thanks, Iris. I look forward to the sprints when you can join us. With all those hours of time zone difference between me and Australia, I still can’t grasp that you’re some dozen hours ahead of me.
If we can add a regular late morning sprint or one in the wee hours, we could have a lot more of the AP authors involved I think.
Agree … and I have a feeling quite a few don’t know about it either!
I wish we could work it out that the AP authors did not have to formally “join” the write-a-thon page. I fear that makes some of our colleagues feel excluded.
not sure whether it’s do’able, but you (or anybody) could create an event. something to consider. possibly
I haven’t been able to get the high numbers that some of you get, but like you and others say, at least I have more done than I would have without the sprints. And knowing that others are working during that time is a great motivator. What a great idea!
One of the cool aspects of these sprints for me, Patty, is that the competition is fun, but it’s not about winning. It’s about producing the best/most words we can in that hour. My lowest word count so far was the first night I sprinted on TDOE. It was the opening scene and all I had to that point was a page of notes. So my numbers were low that evening, but it turned out to be a pretty good start for the story.
Sprinting sounds like fun. I might have to try it. Oh, BTW, I’ve started reading Rescued by that New Guy in Town. Very funny, can’t-put-it-down read.
Thank you, Rita. It’s wonderful to hear that you’re enjoying my comedic novel. It was a fun story to write. And some of the characters [for example, Kristin’s brother] just took me by surprise.
I think you will find sprinting quite liberating … and fun. Since I’m a chronic procrastinator, the sprints are what makes me put my B-O-T-C and my F-O-T-K.
I understand what you are saying ,Jeff, but I would not have until two weeks ago.I would not have even considered doing such a thing or even have considered it useful.
As you know, my life has been a real circus, especially lately.I have been putting-off a great deal of writing and even getting things that are finished sent out in submission.I have let everything get in my way, with just a little start here, a little addition there and very little revision somewhere else…you know what I mean. Then the Wednesday Fox,Micki Gibson, announced on Facebook that she was joining a “100-Words-for-100 Days” challenge and a light bulb went off in my head;I should do this!I COULD do this! And I have been doing this,with usually considerably more than 100 words, (which I realize is nothing compared to your sprinting), but with the little time I have had and the overwhelming happenings around me,it has made me sit down and put words and ideas down as they stay flowing. And, hold on to your hat, what’s coming out is a romance novel.YES, ME!(You have all been bad influences on me!)
So , one day,I may actually join a sprint, as I totally get it, but for me right now, Baby Steps.
Keep up the good work,People!
I applaud your work on the 100 for 100. It would be difficult for me to tackle that, because it would bug me if I only clocked in 87 days, for example.
The sprints are a good solution for me. If the 100/100 works for you and Micki, that’s super. If you like that format, you might also like NaNoWriMo, which comes up in November — a 50k novel in 30 days. I have not tried NaNo for the same reason I just listed. It would bug me if I missed a day or fell a couple thousand words short.
I thank you for your confidence in me, Jeff! I only hope that comes November,my life will have settled down enough…not that I think I am ready for NaNoWriMo!
I had no idea either, Tonette, until recently. RWAus had a sprint month in June 50ks in 30days … it was brilliant. I had to get my head around it though that it’s “just” writing, all the editing, and changing comes later. I wrote 3/4 of a book during June!
But most of all – it’s the company and fun. Writing can be lonely.
that’s fantastic, Iris. Perhaps one day, I will be willing to tackle the 50k in 30 days. but for now, I’ll continue to muddle along as I am.
Yes,Iris,I have been on my own.I have no one who isn’t either totally nit-picking my work or who gushes not to hurt my feelings.I just never expected to ‘go romantic’!
It was hard in a way to find the time, but because it wasn’t a set time it was more “flexible”. You just hopped over to the chat room and checked whether someone else was there and off you went for a sprint. I loved it, especially considering I haven’t written much since then. 😦
I hear ya ! Loud and clear. A good critique partner is hard to find, but I think I have! Phew 🙂
I don’t sprint, but other members in my RWA chapter do. They find it as worthwhile as you do. I have nothing against “sprinting,” it’s just that I have a terrible time finding the time for it. and also, I have a hard time scheduling my writing time around other people’s agreed upon sprinting time. I’m sure I would find it as gratifying as you, but I already belong to a perpetual online 100×100 group, which keeps me writing all my free time, anyway.
It’s bc of the time I spend writing for my 100×100 that I have accomplished putting The End on my current Romantic Fantasy Trilogy–CONNECTIONS–I have coming out from Books To Go Now at the end of this month.
So, that’s why I don’t take part in my chapter’s sprints. BUT I am certain sprinting would have done the same for me as my 100×100. I am so glad you have found something that works to keep you productive, Jeff. We all should do that.
Romance through the mists of time,
Love through the dimensions of reality
FATED, the FIRST in CONNECTIONS, the Trilogy,
coming last week in August 2013, from Books To Go Now!
It sounds like you have a very good support group in your chapter. That’s very helpful, both in general ways and, specifically, when we writers might be struggling with something.
The chapter I’m in is an on-line group land has recently gone through a name change, focus realignment, and lost several members. But it has also picked up a bunch of new folks and now we’re having the growing pains of the communication issues. when that settles down, I believe I will once again have some good sounding boards in that venue.
When I’m in editing mode on something, it’s really hard for me to put that aside in order to sprint, but except for that personal hang-up, I absolutely LOVE the sprinting! Part of what I like is that, when I know I’m going to be sprinting, I don’t want to wait until the appointed hour to try to think of what to write. Instead, I want to be able to sit down and type rip-roaring fast. So it forces me to put some thought into the story ahead of time so that, when I do sit down and flex my typing fingers, I’m ready to go full-speed ahead. I should put thought into what I’m going to write more often… 😉
I completely agree, Heather, that the most productive use of sprint time is after you’ve had a chance to THINK about your ms. and where it’s going over the next several thousand words. Then you are truly primed to sprint when the starting gun goes off.
I love sprints! And you’re right-especially lately, it’s the only writing I get done. I love the competition of it. It makes my fingers move faster 🙂
Though I’m late to acknowledge sprints as a helpful writing activity — and have only participated in 12 of them (total) so far — I am a flag-waving proponent now.
Yes … I have two stories making significant progress which otherwise might have lain untouched (if not for sprints).
Don’t be shocked, but I’m trying to make myself better about getting here to 4F, 1H. Tonette checked up on me and looky at what you’re talking about…SPRINTING. I must say, I’m not sprinting. I’m getting out for a light walk around the block, if you will. Another friend has challenged me to 100 words for 100 days. A five minute sprint if you will. But you know what? Those little nuggets are starting to fill up my cute little pink notebook with crowns on it for my current WIP which is a pageant story which I will stick with your theme and call it S-L-A-P. And these little mini sprints have done something awesome for me. They are getting me back to writing daily and consistently, which I have been sorely lacking for the last few years. I’m excited about writing again, which means that hour-long writing workout is coming. I don’t know exactly when it will happen, but I have faith that it will happen soon. 🙂
Fantastic, Micki. And it is great to see you here on Hound Day.
Certainly our writing should be about the creativity and being as productive as possible given our circumstances and distractions. Whether you accomplish 100 words per day or 1000, it’s the fact that you’re making progress, creating scenes and chapters, and moving your story forward.
I’ve heard that humans can form a habit in 21 days, so if you get through this 100 day plan, you will be rock solid, Micki.
You have me going on that one,Micki! You not only inspired a good story out of me with a story prompt here some time back, you got me back in the saddle with the 100/100 challenge!
As long as all is well,we’re glad to see you!
Sprinting sounds like something I should try. I do get a lot of ideas when I write fast, such as when I attempt to do some journaling. I guess you can tell that I don’t do that often! However, when I do, I write very, very quickly, in order to get thoughts down on paper before they escape, and they invariably give rise to new ideas about things I’d like to put down in writing. So – I can see how this would be a wonderful vehicle to increase productivity or just generate new ideas.
Along those lines, I would think that some form of sprinting would be most useful in today’s classrooms to help students, especially reluctant writers, overcome their fears of the written word and have the freedom to say something without criticism. Imagine how many future authors we might spawn if teachers employed this technique regularly! At the very least, we would have students that can actually write – which seems to be a problem nowadays.
I recently downloaded a free ebook which is related to this: It’s called “Write LIke Crazy: The Homeschooler’s Speed Writing Method” and is, for the moment (it won’t be free for much longer), a free download at this website: http://www.homeschoolfreebieoftheday.com Just scroll down until you see it and follow the instructions to get this ebook for free. I thought it was a nice reference to have, even if you’re not homeschooling anyone – I downloaded the freebie for me. I’m not associated with this site, other than that I receive their emails about new free items when they are available. Thought I’d share.
It would be interesting to perhaps have an online “sprinting event,” don’t you think? Perhaps one that occurred at a few different days and times to accommodate folks’ schedules? If it’s a short enough period, it would be great fun to share what we write and just see how each other’s mind’s work!
I bet you would really enjoy it Carol. And, from your own experience with rapid journaling, you’ve already learned that when you focus on speed, your mental governor doesn’t screen out as many of the creative impulses … so a lot of interesting surprises can appear on your screen (or paper).
My 4F1H colleagues Tonette & Micki are both doing the 100 words a day for 100 days. Not certain where that’s linked, but I believe both are really enjoying it. It’s not exactly a sprint, but it’s a great writing exercise.
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