Monday, May 19, 2014

A Sprint of a Different Kind
I sprinted yesterday. No, not the running kind. Despite the fact that my daughter is nudging me to be better at going to the gym, the physical sprint is not in my foreseeable future.

Yesterday's sprint was a writing sprint. Not at all surprising since I was at a writing conference, and a quiet hotel room seemed the perfect place to put theory into practice.

Sprint writing consists of setting aside an hour long block of time and attempting to write as many words as possible in that hour. 1000 words is the target, but depending on the task attempted at a particular sprint event, sprinters may legitimately fall short of (or exceed) the target word count.

At 9 AM, I attended Ramona DeFelice Long's workshop on sprint writing and by 10:25, I was back in my room, listening to the clock tick and staring panic-stricken at a blank page. Once I got started, it was a pretty good first effort, but I also learned a few things as I set my sights on that first finish line.
1. Taking advantage of opportunity is a good thing. That was actually a theme for me throughout the entire conference, but more on that later this week. Although my first effort at sprinting left me a bit winded (see #2) and I didn't quite make it to the end of my hour due to a welcome interruption, taking advantage of the quiet hotel room while the idea and the motivation were fresh got me off to a good start.

2. Warming up is necessary. Ramona told us this, but since I squeezed my hour in between sessions and check-out (okay, I actually skipped the last workshop), I cut this step due to time constraints. Consequently, I strained myself. Not my muscles or ligaments as in a physical sprint, but rather my confidence as I attempted to leap into a task without first making sure I was ready to attempt it. Though I haven't yet started a sprint journal like Ramona's, even five minutes of warm-up in the form of reading the pages that preceded the section I wanted to write would have eliminated the panic-stricken, time ticking away feeling that almost sabotaged me from the start.

3. It's important to be ready to adjust -- which is different from walking away completely. Life happens, and while some of it can be held at bay for the hour of sprinting, interruptions will occur. My welcome interruption came in the form of my sister unexpectedly returning to the room. Because she's a writer, too, I could give her a quick explanation and keep typing, but since we had to be out of the room and at a final session shortly after her arrival, I ended up finishing my thought, jotting down my word count and stopping ten minutes early. While that has to be the exception and not the rule if sprint writing is to work on a regular basis, it's important to accept that despite proper preparation, some sprints will be curtailed before reaching the finish line.

4. Keeping the end in mind is key. I am writing this blog in a sprint (and hoping to finish it and move on to another work-in-progress about halfway through my sprint time). Before I post it, I will need to add links and images, but because I'm writing this in a sprint, those finishing touches can wait -- at least today. On days when time is tight, I may need to work them in during my sprint, but since today's schedule is flexible and I want to maximize my sprint time, I will write for the entire hour and add finishing touches later.

5. Turning off distractions is key.  Ramona told us this should be part of our prep, so I closed my email program before I started. But, since I am composing this post online, notifications keep popping up on the upper right hand corner of my screen anyway. My daughter's iPad is charging on the kitchen counter and it just beeped to announce a notification. Today I am determined and focused, so those distractions are easy to ignore, but on other days, their mere presence could be enough to pull me from the task at hand, allowing me to lose precious time and concentration. I'm learning that consideration of my state of mind and distractibility will play a key role in my warm ups.

6. It takes time to turn sprinting into a competitive event. Let me clarify -- the only person I am competing with here is myself. Though I will usually post my sprints on my writer page and tweet them on Twitter, the purpose of doing so is to build camaraderie and community; it's kind of nice to think of other writers clicking away at their keyboards while I'm clicking away at mine. But when I speak of turning this into a competitive event, I mean earning my best word count. Just as a runner seeks to shave seconds off her time each time she sprints, a writer seeks to add as many good words as possible each time she sits down to write. Preparation, practice and determination all play a role in achieving this goal, as does the knowledge that we are all human, and so some days will be better than others.
This new (to me) approach -- one of so many great ideas I gleaned from last weekend's conference -- fits perfectly into my life, especially as I transition from the semester into the summer. In my case, the key to a good sprint will lie in the preparation. Yesterday's warm-up was minimal, and that hurt my outcome. Today's was better, but I still need to make a few adjustments.

But even an imperfect sprint is better than no sprint at all.


  1. This sounds like such a great time for you! I cannot imagine ever being able to sprint on command. I've tried. I seriously think there is something wrong with my brain that doesn't allow the words to come out more than a few a minute when I am writing fiction. I can sprint in an email. :) I think my favorite thing you said, though, is that it isn't a competition against anyone but yourself. If only we could apply that to everything in life!

  2. Thanks, Heidi. I was skeptical about this, to be honest. I've tried NaNoWriMo and it's been a disaster because there's too much focus on how many words and not enough focus on their quality. I can only go so far without editing before I create a detour from which I can't return!

    I discovered very quickly that the trick to successful sprinting is flexibility. Today, for example, it's gray and I am tired. A lazy start was in order, so I am sprinting at 9:45 instead of 9, having spent more time on Twitter and prep work because that's all my brain could manage. I don't know if anyone else is sprinting at exactly this time, but I posted my start time on the instructor's Facebook page, and now I'm accountable for an hour of productivity at MY time -- and that productivity can be whatever I want it to be as long as I am writing. But, all that said, this isn't for everyone. For me, the timing of this idea was just perfect, and knowing I'm committing to only an hour, I get my hour in early in the day and feel virtuous instead of guilty for the rest of the day.

    Thanks so much for commenting -- nice to know my blogs aren't lost in the void somewhere :-)