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