What are word sprints? Day 3 of the Writing Challenge

Word sprints are a tool to turn ideas into something tangible on the page. The rules are simple. Set a timer (I recommend twenty-five minutes or fewer) and dump the words from your head onto the page. No editing, no backtracking, no deleting. Just firehouse the words onto the page. If you get stuck, just type out whatever enters your head. (All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.) Just keep your fingers moving, either on the keys or with the pen.

It doesn’t need to make sense, and it certainly doesn’t have to be good. I’ll go so far as to say, it ought to be garbage. If you’re able to write well, either you’re not writing fast enough, you’re already an experienced writer, or you’re some kind of virtuoso.

Why are words sprints useful?

Word sprints help to overcome procrastination because it breaks the overwhelming feeling often caused by large projects. It also lowers the bar. This is not the time to worry about quality or even quantity. The only objective is to have more words at the end of the sprint than you did before you started. Further, the time limit helps to focus your effort. I find it’s easier to ignore distractions when I only have X minutes remaining. The phone buzzes, the dog whines, my belly rumbles. All of that can wait until the timer goes off. As a bonus, I often find myself still typing when the timer goes off. Keep going in that case. Don’t break the rhythm. If the words are flowing, keep at it. However, set the duration short enough that it doesn’t feel like a marathon. It’s a sprint. Explore the unexpected, take a chance on something new. You can always throw it away. At the very least build the habit, the rhythm, the routine of writing.

The result can be used as raw material in revision. As the saying goes, “Bad writing is better than no writing.” There’s only one way to fix a blank page. I’m tempted to share the raw output of my word sprints but that is a bit too behind-the-curtain. If it truly is hot garbage, where is the value? If it’s not as bad as I think, it comes across as humble bragging. 

Word sprints can be done in groups as well. I’ve participated in online write-ins where the host warms up the crowd, gets people talking in the chat then sets a time for ten minutes followed by a five minute break. People get to flex their numbers in the chat and share the silliest parts of their sprints. Lean into the messiness of it. The next timer is twenty minutes followed by a break and finally fifteen minutes. It’s a tremendously efficient way to spend an hour. Give it a try.

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