A New Type of Sprint! — Graduated Word Sprints.

From The Productive Indie Fiction Writer:

One of the most-visited posts on this site is “5 Types Of Writing Sprints – And Why You Need This Tool“, with “Tailor Writing Sprints to Maximize Flow” a close second, along with “Increasing Your Hourly Word Rate“. They all deal with word sprints.

Word Sprints are exactly what they sound like. Writing at maximum speed, without stopping, for a pre-determined amount of time.

Word sprints will train you to write faster even when you’re not writing against the clock. They teach you to focus, to ignore potential distractions, and to ignore your inner editor, who will make you want to stop and fix things before going on.

And word sprints are fantastic for getting a lot of words down quickly, so if you’re up against a deadline, working in consecutive word sprints will help ensure you meet your obligations.

Check the links out at the top of this post–those articles go into the benefits of word sprints in much more depth.

Recently, I came across a new type of word sprint. I didn’t like a lot of the silly restrictions that the sprint insisted upon (turning your monitor off, so you’re literally writing in the dark is simply not feasible for a professional writer).

But there was an idea in that sprint that I liked. I’ve adapted it, and created a new type of sprint I’m calling a “graduated word sprint.”

How to do graduated word sprints

I’m going to assume you’ve never done word sprints before.

Grab a timer

Your computer has a timer. So does your phone. There are downloadable and on-line timers, too. A watch or clock will also do.

Ideally, the timer should be one you can glance at as you’re writing. This might require splitting your screen so you can check the countdown as you’re writing.

Set up your word count record

Make sure you’ve got the word count for how far into your manuscript you have already written, so you can take it away from your end word count to get a count for the sprints.

Or, do as I do: set up a quick and dirty spreadsheet that will calculate your words written for each sprint, using the last sprint’s end count to figure out this sprint’s words written.

Alternatively, build yourself a pencil & paper table to do the same thing

This graduated word sprint works best if you’re doing more than one. You’ll understand why in a minute.

If you’ve never sprinted before and don’t know what your hourly word rate is, then for now, use 1,000 words an hour as a starting point. Each sprint is 15 minutes, so your goal for each sprint is 250 words.

If you know your hourly rate, divide by four to arrive at your goal for the sprints.

Complete your first 15-minute sprint

Set your timer for 15 minutes and put it where you can see it as you write.

Open your current manuscript and get ready to write.

Start the timer and start writing.

Don’t stop writing. This is only 15 minutes — ignore everything except getting the words down.

Don’t worry about the quality of your writing. You can fix everything later. (But one of the interesting effects of sprints is that often, you don’t have to fix much at all, not once you’re in flow.)

Keep an eye on the timer. 250 words is a single page of writing, if you’re using the classic manuscript format. You’ll know how close you’re running to hitting your word count by how far down the page you’re working. If the end of the fifteen minutes is approaching, speed up a bit.

This has the effect of adding time pressure, which keeps your attention focused on the manuscript, despite minor distractions. And it trains your fingers and mind to move faster.

It also helps you build writing discipline, so that when you’re writing without a timer, you’re still maintaining focus and getting the words down.

Check Your Wordcount

When you have finished the first sprint, calculate how many words you wrote.

Complete two more sprints and check your word count

If you exceed 250 words (or whatever your goal is) for all three sprints, for the next sprint, increase the rate by 15%. If 250 was your goal, that makes your new goal 288 words.

If you didn’t reach your goal rate, then leave the goal where it is.

This is the “graduating” part of the sprint. Each time you exceed your goal for three sprints in a row, you increase the goal.

At first, you might find it easy to keep upping your goal, and hitting it, but that pace of increase will slow down until your word count is creeping up in very small increments. You may be only able to add an extra 10 words per sprint. But that’s fine, because you’ll be getting words down at a prodigious rate, anyway.

Complete as many sprints as you want or need

You can continue to sprint for as long as you want.

Chris Fox, who wrote an entire book on increasing your speedonly writes using sprints.

I find that sprinting is good for training myself to a faster word count, but then it becomes an annoyance, breaking my concentration and immersion in the story. I know that’s when it’s time to let the sprinting go.

Or I make the sprint longer. 50 minutes in each hour, pomodoro-style.

Once you’ve used sprinting long enough to up your word count and have learned to ignore distractions and just write, you could use sprints once a week, or every couple of weeks, just to keep your rate and your concentration honed.

Or perhaps you like the challenge of reaching for what once seemed like an impossible word rate; for example, 2,000 words an hour, or even more. I’d be very happy with 2,000 words an hour, but every author is unique in this regard. What seems like a reach for you could be a nice goal to strive for. If this describes you, then spend a month writing in graduated sprints, and see how close you can get.

Alternatively, use one or two or more sprints (depending upon how long your writing session is) to start you writing each day, then turn the timer off and just write.

That’s the beauty of sprints. They’re an endlessly flexible tool.

Tracy Cooper-Posey

SRP Author and owner of The Productive Indie Fiction Writer

Tracy is one of Stories Rule Press’ most prolific authors. She also hangs out at The Productive Indie Fiction Writer, where she writes about issues facing today’s indie author, and solutions that make the indie life a little easier.