We’re far enough out from New Year’s that our excitement over making and meeting writing goals may have waned, and we find ourselves slacking. You know what can help boost your output? Writing sprints. Whether you choose a goal based on time or word count, working in sprints can maximize your time and build consistency into your daily writing routine. Paul Bonea is here to show us how they work.
One of the more difficult things to do when it comes to writing is to maintain consistency and structure to your schedule. This is especially true if writing isn’t what you do (yet) for a living, when regular jobs and chores can quickly sidetrack you.
One solution to reach daily consistency with your writing is to work in quick sprints, with firm but easy-to-reach objectives. Once you reach these objectives, you’ve finished writing for the day. How ambitious your objectives are should depend on your own circumstances, such as how much time you have, energy levels, time of day, etc.
The objectives themselves can be set up as either time based, where you allocate a certain amount of time to write each day, or word count based, where the goal is to write X amount of words daily.
The greatest advantage to writing a set number of hours or minutes per day is that it is psychologically sustainable. You don’t feel pressured by a hard word count you must meet and instead can just apply yourself at a comfortable pace in order to find that right combination of words.
This is especially useful when writing difficult scenes or passages, where the wording is critical to create the right impact. It’s easily possible for one such passage or scene to slow down your writing from 800-1000 words per day to 200-300. During these slow days, a daily word count target can be stress-inducing since it can make you feel you’ve made very little to no progress.
A time-based approach bypasses this issue by measuring your efforts instead of your results. Even a bad writing day (with little inspiration and ideas) can feel rewarding—like a step in the right direction—if you know you’ve hit your 60-minute or 90-minute writing time.
A pitfall to this method is that distractions can quickly eat up your allocated time. 3-5 minutes spent browsing social media, another 5-10 while you eat something can quickly add up and defeat the purpose of setting time limits. The only way to counteract this and prevent you from stealing your own hat is being disciplined to stick to the clock.
Another potential issue you might face is the inconsistent amount of actual writing you produce. In three consecutive days, you may write 300, 1000, and 100 words. When you measure performance in effort rather than results, it’s easy to trick yourself into doing just the bare minimum to qualify.
The good old words-per-day system is the traditional measuring stick because, in the long term, it works (as long as you stick to it).
A word-count sprint has simple principles: you set yourself a target amount of words to write for the day and don’t stop until you’ve achieved that. The major challenge when using this method is to figure how much or how little your can write on a daily basis. This is entirely dependent on your own personal circumstances, writing style, and even personality.
A quick Google search will show that many big-name writers hover around 1000 to 2000 words daily. 1000 words might not sound like a particularly difficult target, but unless you write full-time you might not have the time nor the energy to produce this amount of output.
Setting up too-lofty goals and not being able to achieve them is a guaranteed way of frustrated yourself. The point of a daily word-count sprint isn’t to force you to write as much as possible as quickly as possible; instead, it’s supposed to foster consistency in your routine. In an ideal situation, you want to create a sustainable word-count target that is challenging but easy enough to reach every day, any day, for as long as you want without burning you out.
However, one possible concern with this method is that you just churn out the words to hit your target while tossing quality out the window. Many a good book has withered by drowning in needless words, passages, and redundant explanations. The only way around this solution is to be aware of any tendency you might have of fattening things up and then cut things down in editing.
On the flipside, the gentle stress of a word count can actually stimulate your creativity to the point where most of your output is solid.
What System Does This Writer Use?
Over the years, I’ve used both of these systems with great results. From personal experience I can say that time-based writing sprints are great when you have a tight schedule and cannot commit yourself fully to writing. While it’s not much, finding a 30-minute or one-hour block and squeezing in as much writing as possible can lead to a few hundred words here and there. However, over a two- or three-month period, they quickly stack up, and before you know it, you’ve made real progress.
When my schedule is clear and I can fully focus on writing, I almost always default to word-count sprints. I have found that overall, they help me cover more ground much faster than timed blocks, even if they can be more mentally draining.
And now, it’s your turn. Have you used writing sprints in your daily routine? Which do you prefer, and why?
Paul Bonea is the author of Hasty Reader, a blog centered around books, self-improvement and science articles, where he reads and extracts the most useful information a reader can use in his life journey.
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.