The value of “sprint” writing

For three days, I’ve been working toward completing the first draft of the next Sarah & Katy book.

I specifically took three days off from the newspaper to write. The first day, I accomplished almost no writing. My only goal was, “Try to finish the book.”

The second day was nearly as bad. I got through about a chapter and a half. That only left eleven chapters to write.

Both days were full of distractions. Facebook. Catching up on posts at the Kid Lit Blog Hop. Fixing dinner. Getting a haircut. Staring aimlessly at the computer. Checking in with the newsroom.

I started to feel guilty for taking time off work. If I wasn’t going to be productive, what was the point?

Today, I organized my strategy. Rather than setting a vague goal, I said I wanted to at least get three chapters done during the afternoon. Then I used sprints to reach that goal.

I structured each hour with two writing sessions and two breaks. Using alarms on my phone, I set each session for 20 minutes. At the end of each 20 minutes, I’d jot down my word count (usually in the ballpark of 400 to 500 words). Then I would take a 10 minute break for Facebook, bathroom breaks, grabbing lunch from the kitchen, getting the mail, or checking in with the office.

Having designated time slots for distractions minimized their negative impact on the writing process. Each chapter is about 1,200 words, so every three sessions (or every hour and a half), I’d get a full chapter out of the way.

The great thing about sprints is, they are all about getting words on the page. They force me to stop overthinking my sentences or what’s next. That type of instinctual writing is usually what produces my best work; I had a surprise chapter come out of today’s sessions that turned out to be my favorite so far. Plus, a solution to a plot hole presented itself because I was forcing myself to get words on the page and explore the world I’ve built.

Sprints offer added focus for days it’s hard to get in a groove. They aren’t a solution for every writing session. After all, some days need research, and there’s something to be said for slow, thoughtful crafting.

But when it comes to getting off the couch and hitting the ground running, there are few better solutions than a sprint.

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