Monday, July 7, 2014

Sprinting, Jogging and Staying the Course

Last week in my "Hamstrung" post, I mentioned that I was trying to figure out how to make sprinting work in the real world. In other words, I needed to find a way to keep the sprinting habit going when the writing task at hand wasn't new word creation.

Part of making this work means expanding my narrow (self-imposed) definition of a sprint as an hour spent trying to get as many new words on the page as possible. Believe it or not, it's hard to let go of that definition because using a sprint in that way works, especially when the task at hand is a blog or new words on a first draft.

So why adjust? Because the first draft is just that -- a first draft. There's no room in my narrow definition for revisions or polishing or adding graphics to a blog -- the kinds of things that turn a first draft into a final copy.
My original plan was to use the sprint for new word creation each morning, and to find some time later in the day to tackle other writing tasks. A great idea in theory, but that ended up making new word creation a priority all the time, and that's just not realistic. When I finish the task at hand (new first draft) before the hour is up, I feel obligated to start something else in order to fill the time, and eventually, I end up with a whole lot of words that need to be revised and no allotted time to revise them. In addition, my most productive time is consistently allotted to the same task, and revising, which requires at least as much energy and brain power as new word creating, gets relegated to less productive times of day.

Let me clarify: this is a problem I created for myself. When I took Ramona's workshop on sprinting, she never said I could not edit, revise or otherwise occupy myself with relevant writing tasks during my sprinting time, and, in fact, she advocated the use of a sprint journal, which I completely disregarded in my haste to get to the keyboard.

So one logical next step is to follow her lead and use a sprint journal to guide my sprint time. Here are two others I've come up with:

Lose the stopwatch mentality. Perhaps because I attempted my first sprint on a day when I had almost
exactly a one hour window in which to write, I tend to approach my sprints with a sort of "beat the clock" mentality. Will I get 1000 words in before my hour is up?

Some days -- many days, in fact, I come pretty close. Sometimes, I even go over. But not every writing day lends itself to a frantic pace, and some days, it's downright counterproductive. The "run, run, run faster, run faster" voice in the back of my mind sometimes makes any sort of running impossible. Creativity needs to be coaxed, not bludgeoned, and some days it's a jog rather than a sprint. And that's okay.
Track time and keep notes on how it was spent. Last week, I began tracking my sprints -- how long I sprinted and how many words I wrote -- along with how I spent my sprint time. While using a sprint journal before racing out of the gate serves as a warm up and helps to plan the time, journaling about what I did after I cross the finish line serves as a cool down and celebrates what I accomplished. Keeping track of the tasks that filled the hour helps to keep the statistics (time and word count) in perspective, especially on days when I fall short of the magical 1000 words in 60 minutes.

This has also freed me up to experiment with the sprint and to use it for more than just new word creation (again -- my narrow definition, by choice, not the sole definition of a sprint). Yesterday, for example, I decided to spend 90 minutes on the revisions I've been putting off for two years (yes, you read that right). More of a jog than a sprint, it nevertheless got me moving in the right direction and it left me with a sense of accomplishment because I had done what I'd set out to do. I still hate revising, but I'm a little farther along that bumpy road thanks to my sprint-and-a-half.

As I'm sure you can tell if you've been reading this blog since May, I'm thrilled to have added sprinting to my writing tool belt. Finding an hour a day to devote exclusively (and usually without interruption) to my writing is pretty easy. Now it's all about maximizing that hour.

What piece of advice have you modified to fit your needs?


  1. Reading this after I finished up a 20-minute editing sprint. I never get to do an hour of ANYTHING uninterrupted!

  2. Congratulations! I have done split sprints, too -- that's one of the reasons I started keeping track. I have a tendency to focus on what I've left undone rather than what I've accomplished, and the post-sprint journal helps keep me motivated.

    Ramona (who taught the workshop that got me started down this road) is doing quite a bit of writing on this, so when you have time, follow the links in my blog to hers if you can. She has lots of good ideas.

    Hope LB's week at camp is going well.

  3. I've been sprinting with Ramona for a couple of years (or at least it seems that way). I regard it as an hour with no internet, no interruptions, and a bathroom break only when unavoidable. I can crank new words, I can revise my little ass off, or write and polish a blog post, but it's the dedicated hour that's key for me. Love hearing about your path in this area!