Momentum is everything when you’re writing a novel. Every author can attest to the dozens of unfinished manuscripts and long-lost story ideas they never got off the ground. People don’t realize how painstakingly slow this craft can be. That’s why it’s important to find ways to stay inspired and maintain momentum over the months—or even years—it can take to finish your manuscript. My secret weapon? Writing Sprints!
Procrastination is the fatal enemy of the novelist. Finding the energy and motivation to sit down and write when you’re coming up against a blank page every day is not for the faint of heart. It’s why so many people call it quits on their dream of writing a book before they even get started.
Enter writing sprints—an effective tool that injects energy into your novel-writing process and helps you break through those creative roadblocks. Adding it to your repertoire of writing strategies could be just the thing you need to finally complete your masterpiece.
What are Writing Sprints?
Writing sprints are sessions in which the goal is to write as much as you can during a set amount of time. These sprints are usually short—around 15 to 20 minutes—and are done in increments with small breaks in between. The Pomodoro Technique is an example of this approach.
It’s unclear exactly where the practice originated from, but authors have been using writing sprints for decades as a way to quickly make progress on a manuscript. With the only goal being to write as much as you can in the time allotted, you can’t overanalyze tiny details or get stuck in self-doubt. You just have to write.
Beyond maintaining momentum and encouraging focus, the other major advantage of sprints is that they allow you to treat writing a novel like any other form of exercise. It’s no secret that writing a book feels overwhelming to many. By giving yourself small, achievable goals (i.e., writing for a 20-minute sprint), it’s easier to stay motivated and keep moving forward.
What is the Best Length for Writing Sprints?
How long your sprint lasts really depends on you and your individual writing style. Some people find that they can write for extended periods of time, while others need more frequent breaks. It’s important to figure out what works best for you and stick with it.
Generally speaking, it seems short bursts are better (especially for beginners). Sprints of 10, 15, or 20 minutes are:
- Easy to squeeze into your day
- Long enough to make some real progress
- Short enough to keep you from getting distracted
As with anything, it’s important to experiment and find the length that works best for you. If you don’t feel like you’re making enough progress during 10-minute sprints, try extending it to 15 minutes. Or, if you find yourself getting too easily distracted over a longer period of time, try breaking it up into smaller chunks.
The important thing is to find the balance between writing for periods of time that feel achievable and still give you enough momentum towards your goal.
Are Word or Writing Sprints Better?
In the world of sprints, there are two camps people fall into: timed and word count.
Word sprints are the same concept as writing sprints, except your word count is the metric you’re aiming for. Rather than writing for a period of time, you’re writing until you reach a certain word count. Like writing sprints, you’re not supposed to spend this time editing or overthinking every sentence. You simply write until you reach your goal.
At the end of the day, neither approach is better than the other. It comes down to personal preference. Some people find that having a specific word count goal is motivating, while others find it distracting.
Writing Sprints VS Writing Rituals
Another novel writing strategy you’ll come across is the writing ritual. Rituals are sort of like sprints; only you’re encouraged to write at the same time and place—and for the same duration—every single day. No breaks. No vacations.
There’s a lot to be said for building a consistent writing habit. It can get you into the right creative headspace, provide necessary structure, and help make your novel writing a priority. But at the same time, rituals can be restrictive. I find that a lot of people get it into their heads that they need a writing ritual to be a “real” writer—and that’s just not true.
Feeling this way can create yet another obstacle to doing what’s most important: sitting down and writing.
Is Your First Draft Gathering Virtual Dust?
It’s all too easy to put off writing a novel. After all, it takes a huge amount of time, energy, and dedication. Maybe you whipped a first draft out in no time, but now you’re terrified to get it a read. Or maybe you’ve been daydreaming of a character arc for years, but you just can’t seem to find the time and energy to get it on paper.
If procrastination is the only thing standing in the way of you and your dreams, employing a strategy like writing sprints can help you move your novel from idea to finish line. And if you’d like some extra assistance in getting your novel out of virtual purgatory, click here to check out my book coaching services.
Together, we can get that draft out of your head and into the real world.