Whether you are a creative writer or a copywriter, whether you are just starting out or have been a pro for years, there are times when your productivity plummets.
It seems like hour after hour goes by, and somehow there still aren’t any words on the page.
No matter what’s causing your slump, writing sprints are a great way to beat the writer’s blues and restart your productivity.
What is a Writing Sprint?
A writing sprint is a short, but defined, period of time in which you set a goal, silence distractions, and do nothing but write.
Your goal might be to reach a certain word count, fill a number of pages, or simply write for a set time period. The point is to focus exclusively on writing for the duration of the sprint.
How Can Word Sprints Improve My Productivity?
Writing sprints are a fantastic way to improve your productivity. Here’s how:
- Stop your inner editor. Many writers slow down over time as they start to question their word choices, pause to check facts, revise writing they’ve already done, or otherwise edit when they should be writing. A sprint forces you to stop editing, and just write.
- Remove distractions. We all know how hard it can be to maintain focused writing. We get an email or notification, we pause to check a fact and then end up wasting time online, the laundry beeps… the list of distractions is endless, and it slips easily into procrastination.
For most of us, ignoring distractions and focusing on writing for hours a day may be impossible, but almost everyone can silence distractions and focus on writing for 20 minutes.
- Maximize your writing time. While it may seem like short sprints of focused writing won’t make a big difference in the long run, most writers are surprised by how much they can get done in sprints.
Writers with busy lives may feel like they don’t have the luxury of spending all day writing, but sprints can fit into even the busiest schedule and make the most of the time you have.
- Boost your motivation. The fact is, simply getting words on the page and making measurable progress can be powerfully motivating. Writing sprints have the psychological effect of creating a series of small victories, and the emotional reward of that feeling of accomplishment can be a powerful motivator.
For example, if your goal is to write your memoirs over the summer, that can feel like an enormous task and become emotionally draining. However, if your goal is instead to write 1000 words a day, and you repeatedly achieve that goal, the task becomes motivating and empowering.
In other words, word sprints are a great tool for managing your time, your thoughts, and your motivation, to improve your writing speed and productivity. Even better, the practice of focused writing becomes a habit over time, helping you be a more productive writer no matter what you are working on.
Top Writing Sprints Styles to Try
Many professional writers use word sprints as a productivity tool, and there are several different writing sprint styles and techniques. Here are some of the most popular.
- Pomodoro. The Pomodoro Method is an all-purpose productivity tool that is easily applied to writing. It consists of setting a countdown timer, working with focus for 25 minutes until the timer goes off, resting for 5 minutes, and then starting again.
Each 30-minute time segment is called “a Pomodoro”. When using the Pomodoro technique, many writers use the 5-minute break to think about what they will write next before beginning the next set. If you are short on time, you can simply complete a single 25-minute focused writing session with a timer.
- Custom Sprints. Many writers experiment until they find the right sprint intervals that work for them. For example, perhaps you have a 15-minute break every day at work, and decide to use that time for a writing sprint. Perhaps you struggle to maintain focus, and can only do 10 minutes of uninterrupted writing.
A good way to find your own custom sprints is to start a stopwatch timer, write as quickly as you can, and stop the timer when you notice your speed or attention start to flag. If you record your results daily, over a week or so you will discover the natural sprint length that works best for you.
- Chained Word Sprints. Chained word sprints consist of a sequence of sprints and breaks. For example, you may write for 15 minutes, rest for 5, write for another 15, etc. for an hour.
Use the Pomodoro method to write for a series of 25-minute sprints, or use your own comfortable timing. The idea is to build your endurance with a series of sprints.
- Mini Writing Marathons. As you practice sprints, you really will improve your writing endurance, and can build up to a mini-marathon. A mini writing marathon is usually a session where you double your sprints.
For example, if you habitually write for 25 uninterrupted minutes, try to write for 50. Remember to maintain the “mini” in marathon – most writers find it impossible to write quickly and with sustained focus for much longer than an hour. After that, it’s no longer a “sprint”.
How to Write in Sprints
Whatever sprint method you choose, here’s how to maximize the value of each writing sprint:
- Set a realistic goal. Most writers choose a word-count goal (500 words in 20 minutes, or 1000 words in 50), but you can choose the goal that works best for you.
Make your goal realistic and measurable, but still challenging; part of the psychological benefit of sprints is to give yourself the satisfaction and accomplishment of consistently meeting your goals.
- Set up your environment. Before starting a sprint, make sure you are physically comfortable and in a good writing environment. Get a cup of coffee or a glass of water. Put on a sweater. Go to the bathroom. You don’t want physical discomfort to interrupt your sprint. Some people also write better with an ambient soundtrack, so choose your playlist.
- Remove distractions. Silence notifications, sign out of chat windows, and make sure you won’t be interrupted.
- Set a timer. If you can possibly avoid it, don’t use your phone as your timer. A kitchen timer is best, because it doesn’t come with a lot of other distractions. Computers also have timer or countdown functions, so you can use that instead.
- Write. You don’t have to write as fast as you can, and you still need to write functional sentences. Rather than aiming for speed, aim for continuity: don’t stop writing until the timer goes off.
- Record your results. Recording the results is also a powerful motivator, because you can see your speed and productivity improve over time with practice.
Improve Your Writing Sprint Performance with Running Mates
Just like with physical exercise, running mates are a great way to improve your motivation and productivity. Sharing your goals with others helps to keep you accountable and on task, and sharing your successes with a community gives you more to celebrate.
Running mates are also important because writing can often feel like a lonely endeavor, and connecting with a community reminds you that you are not alone.
To find running mates, you can:
- Reach out to fellow writers to schedule a sprint session
- Use social media to connect with others. Searching for hashtags like #wordsprint, #writingsprint, or #amwriting on Twitter will often help you find others who are doing the same thing
- Join Write52 which is a site that encourages you to write a blog post every week for a year
As you get into the habit of writing sprints, you will find opportunities everywhere. Perhaps you just put something in the oven for 12 minutes, or have a half-hour before the kids come home, or a spare 10 minutes on your lunch break.
Regular practice with sprints will improve your writing speed and productivity over time, and help make a daily writing practice easier and more efficient.
Writing Sprint FAQs:
How long should writing sprints be?
Writing sprints should be long enough for you to achieve a flow, and short enough that you can maintain continuous writing without stopping. Generally speaking, anything from 10-60 minutes is a good length for a writing sprint.
What is the best time of day for a word sprint?
If you don’t know what time of day you write best, then you’ll need to experiment to work it out. Try sprinting at different times of the day to work out if you’re a morning, afternoon or evening person.