Tips and Tricks for Your Next Writing Sprint
I had this vision: An empty mind ready to create. A writing sprint started at the top of the hour. And page after page of new words that weren’t there before. I would enter the zone and the words would flow. What could be simpler?
When I put that vision into practice, the wheels of my mind spun-out instead of propelled me forward. Was I the only writer who couldn’t sprint? Was sprinting even a productive way to write?
Writing sprints can actually be counterproductive. When writing quickly, it is easy to depend on clichés. They spring to mind first. Verlyn Klinkenborg in Several Short Sentences About Writing calls them “volunteer sentences.” While it can feel good to have words pour out of you, he says that you should always eye volunteer sentences with suspicion. Originality isn’t effortless. Picturing a scene and describing an authentic moment takes time. It is not enough to regurgitate what you have read before, hoping you can fix it later.
I started to think writing sprints had no place in crafting quality fiction. Putting clichés and tropes down on paper, and building from there, can often prevent good ideas from spawning more good ideas. But everyone knows that the inner critic can paralyze the creative mind. Where is the balance?
In an ideal world I wouldn’t need writing sprints. I would just think of the best way to say something and write it down with confidence. In reality, I need some strong groundwork on the page before I can fashion my finished prose.
A key to understanding writing sprints is that a blank mind can’t fill a blank page. A mind filled with vague ideas isn’t much better. That just translates to vague writing. Bland, wandering, confused prose can be more trouble to work with than a fresh start.
Before your sprint, you need to fill up your mind with details and potential energy. You can write at amazing speeds if you give your mind enough fuel to burn.
Sketch out a rough idea of what you want to say during your next sprint. Play with your ideas. Question your assumptions of how events should play out and where they should take place. Not in love with it? Mix it up. Brainstorm. Give yourself a ton of options and pick and choose. Your first idea is usually something that has already been done too much. Dig deeper.
Once you have an idea of how you want things to play out, you’ll see obvious obstacles to writing it down. There may be things you need to research first. Get that out of the way. How does a person react when they go into shock? What tools are used in shamanistic medicine? Things you need to know before you can write the scene with authority. It will also help if you imagine the scene and have it play out in your head. Make sure to get a clear mental picture of all the locations, props, and people you will be writing about in your next sprint.
You will be inventing a lot of things on the fly, but you don’t want elements to stump you. You want ideas that you love already bouncing around in your brain, begging to be let out.
Now that you have all the obstacles out of your way, you should be able to perform an effective writing sprint.
Sprinting helps me focus. I decide a predetermined time, at max an hour at this point, where my goal is to put down as many words as possible. Start out with fifteen minutes. Keep going if you can. Work up to longer sprints.
Pulp writers have been known to be able to write a whole novel over the course of three days. I would love to try that by the end of the year. More on that in a future post.
I’ll need to practice my sprints every day. I’m getting better. Get better with me.