Perhaps the most beneficial practice I’ve undertaken lately is that of timed writing sprints with my kids. I think I’ve mentioned we recently purchased netbooks for my two older children, a decision made mainly because of their desire to write stories. As a way of encouraging them and being involved in their creativity, I started doing writing sprints with them on fairly regular basis.
This all started back during NaNoWriMo when I noticed their official Twitter stream was encouraging mass participation in writing sprints. I got involved in a few, and immediately discovered the benefits. My daughter was participating as well, and so I decided to challenge her to our own writing sprints in house, and found it to be our most productive days during the month.
What’s a writing sprint? Take a timer, set it to count down for a predetermined length of time—usually between 15 and 30 minutes—and write like mad until the buzzer goes off. That’s it! Nothing profound.
Why do writing sprints? Here are a few things I’ve learned.
- Brings Focus: There’s nothing like an arbitrary time constraint to make you put butt in chair and start typing. That email you were worried about checking? No time. Those pretty birds singing outside your window calling for your attention? No time. The clock is ticking, and you’re trying to get words on the screen before the timer goes off.
- Permission to Write Crap: For me, one of my worst habits is forgetting the first draft is not the final revision. Sometimes I get so bogged down on word choice and grammar that I lose my train of thought. The story gets lost because of over-thinking, but the story is the whole point of writing in the first place. When you’ve only got 20 minutes to put words on the page, the crap flows much more easily. It can always be cleaned up later.
- Mutes the Internal Editor: Related to crap writing, when there’s a severely limited timeframe, the dreaded internal editor seems easy to ignore. Perhaps he suddenly begins cheering for you rather than criticizing you because he knows his success is actually tied to yours. He’ll get back to you during the revision stage.
- Isolation and Community: Writing sprints can be done alone, but they’re a whole lot of fun when done with others. There’s something about a little friendly competition that sharpens focus. Word counts go up, and even the story itself seems more lively.
- Bursts through Writer’s Block: The timer’s counting down, who’s got time for writer’s block?
Try sprints for yourself, and see if they don’t breathe vitality into your writing routine.
Also, for you fellow Mac users out there, here’s a pair of utilities I use to help do sprints properly.
Freedom, allows you to kill the wireless networking on your MacBook or other computer for a pre-determined amount of time. It keeps you from distracting yourself by checking email, or doing “online research.” EDIT: I just learned there is also a Windows edition of this utility, but it costs $10. There is a free version of the Mac edition.
Timer Utility does exactly what you need it to do and no more. Set it for an amount of time, hit start, and watch it count down. You can choose from a variety of sounds for your buzzer, or choose a built-in system tone. I like to keep it floating above my fullscreen Scrivener. Seeing the thing counting down out of the corner of my eye motivates me to keep on typing.