Word Sprints

Today’s post might be of particular interest to the NaNo-ers among us. I know you’re out there. You probably haven’t slept more than six hours a night in the last two weeks and, if you’re like me, there are a lot of undone items on your To Do lists, but hopefully you’re all still alive and hopefully this post might help that general state of living-ness continue.

So, onto the topic at hand: Writing.

Sometimes writing is honest-to-goodness the greatest thing in the world. It is better than chocolate, it is better than curling up with a good book while the world is blizzarding outside, it is better than steak (and I love me some steak). But other times, writing feels like a chore. It’s just one more thing that needs to get crossed off your To Do list, which is already about a mile and a half long. It’s that thing that needs to get done before your mom will let you go  play on a Saturday afternoon.  It’s not fun–in fact, it is about as much fun as going to the dentist.

For me, the writing is a chore feeling usually comes along when I’m already tired and stressed out and my story is broken and all I really want to do is watch another Big Bang Theory rerun. But I’ve found that (especially during high-stakes months like NaNo November) if I skip writing one day, I am more likely to skip the next day. And the day after that. And the day after that one…ad nauseam.

And the only way to get out of this cycle of suck is to sit down and stop whining and actually write something. But this hard, which is why I have taken up the sport of word sprints.

The basic premise behind word sprints is you set a timer (I usually set mine for a half hour) and you do nothing during that half hour but bust your butt writing.  No checking facebook, no responding to that text message. The internet will still be there when you are done–this is a solid block of time that is just for writing.

And the goal is to write as much as you possibly can. I like going into my word sprints with a certain word count in mind. I like having a goal–and then I like utterly wasting that goal. Other writers like to do word sprints in the form of word wars. You and your writing buddy sit down and you each try to write more than the other. This fosters a friendly (or not so friendly, depending on the competitiveness of both you and your writing buddy) spirit of competition, which can be a great motivator.

And really, that’s all word sprints or word wars are. They are means of motivating yourself to get something done.  Because it’s really easy to say to yourself, “Self, for the next [insert block of time] we are going to nothing but breathe and write. And I promise that once [block of time] is up, we can go back to watching Big Bang Theory instead of studying for that test/writing that paper/cleaning the house/walking the cat etc.” Knowing that you only have to sit and focus for a little amount of time makes the writing seem way more obtainable and a lot less scary and intimidating. It’s a small step towards completing your goal.

Of course, you need to keep in mind that what you write during a word sprint is most likely going to be crap. It’s a natural consequence. Going back to the chore metaphor, word sprints are the equivalent of shoving everything under your bed, wiping off the visible dust,  spraying the room with air freshener, and declaring your room “clean.” It’s a shoddy job and definitely not a permanent fix, but it gets the job done.

Because sometimes you just need to get the words on paper. Sometimes you just need to write through whatever problems you’re having with your story. Because you know what? Once it’s written, you can fix it. It’s not going to get fixed as some amorphous blob in your head.

So next time you hit a roadblock in your writing, turn off your wifi, set a timer, and get sprinting.