Writing Sprints; I’m a Believer [Updated REPOST]

6B2B0212 (2) copy~ By Jeff Salter

[Note: This blog is based on detailed comments I sent to Nancy Herkness in October 2013, as she prepared an article on various writing challenges. Several sentences of my material appeared in that article, in the February 2014 issue (Vol. 34, Number 2) of Romance Writers Report (RWR).]

I used to look askance at the sprints – large and small – which I saw people chatting about. My initial reaction was: Writing is a solitary endeavor, so just do it by yourself and keep it to yourself. But after I accepted an invitation from a colleague for a small group sprint one evening in late May 2013, I was hooked. In that hour, I had produced nearly 1600 words on a story which I otherwise would not have gotten back to in who-knows-when.

Chatting about that experience (and perhaps several afterwards), I kind of stumbled into a separate group (previously begun by one of my Clean Reads colleagues) which she calls the Write-A-Thon. In that space, she – and, now, many others of us who’ve gotten involved – post our progress on certain projects, our daily word production (if notable), and (of course) our word counts from various sprints, including the main weekly one (to be explained below).

For a look at my earlier thoughts about sprinting, please take at look at my blog from August 2013:

http://fourfoxesonehound.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/sprinting-with-my-fingers/

Sprints as a Writing Challenge

The Write-A-Thon group/thread had been going on for quite some time, I believe, before I paid any attention to it – for the reasons I indicated above. But I was so jazzed by my experience in that very first small group sprint that I was yakking about it on the CR group and after several weeks. Around Aug. 1, I believe, our weekly sprinting adventure had been invited to migrate to the Write-A-Thon group/thread as a convenient venue.

We don’t have an official name, but I briefly called it the “Yee-Haw CR Weekly Sprint”. [No particular reason]. Most participants, however, think of it as the Write-A-Thon Sprint… though the Write-A-Thon group/thread often has other smaller sprints throughout the week.

Ours has taken the form of one hour – typically late evenings (Eastern time) – one night per week. We currently “assemble” at the Write-A-Thon group/thread in the few minutes prior to start time, type furiously for 60 minutes, and then begin posting our word counts at that site. At the end, one of us tallies the cumulative word counts for all participants and we often have over 10k words produced during that hour.

How I Arrived (and Why I Needed Help)

Over time, I had allowed myself to be basically frozen once I had a manuscript contracted and in edits. Of course, the edit process timetable was unpredictable (to me), so I might sit (mostly) idle – i.e., not starting anything new – for several weeks in a stretch, just waiting for the edits to return for my next part of the process. I couldn’t force myself to work on something different because I thought my brain had to be zeroed in on the particular story in the edit pipeline. Therefore, I lost weeks and months of potentially productive work time… just waiting.

After following that odd pattern for roughly 18 months – through the publication of three full-length novels and one short novella – I finally accepted that challenge of CR colleague and friend, Opal Campbell, to sprint with her and one or two others.

Then I was hooked: excited by my measurable progress on a different story, and truly stoked to learn that I could pick up a tale in mid-stride and actually produce — not only volume, but quality.

One unpredictable bonus:  each story I’ve sprinted on has developed some surprising and creative plot twists. I attribute this to the “flow” people describe when they’re sprinting without their inner editor being as engaged.

Difficulties / Coordination

Though the Write-A-Thon group/thread was begun by one particular author, this weekly sprint (which now uses that venue) is coordinated by the winner of the previous week’s competition. Our saying is:  winner gets bragging rights for a week and the responsibility for setting (and announcing / promoting) the sprint for next week.

The biggest challenge is selecting a date and time which will be convenient for the maximum number of participants. E.G., some of our participating colleagues are in places like Great Britain or Australia which are MANY hours ahead or behind a time we set in the U.S. Even inside America, we have a three hour spread between Eastern and Pacific time.

We’ve sprinted on several different days, but seem to favor Tuesdays and Thursdays the most. Though most of our sprints (so far) have started at 10 p.m. or 9 p.m. ET, we’ve also experimented with morning or mid-day sprints, some of which draw sizeable crowds.

We have lots of flexibility, especially for those overseas:  they’re allowed to sprint at a time workable for them and post their count. Then, when the rest of us sprint together, we aim for their mark.

Sprinting Goals

I had no particular goals when I began. In my 134 weekly sprints so far, my highest count has been 1823 words for the 60 minutes involved; lowest has been 815 words. Occasionally, I’ve missed a significant chunk of the sprint hour… but not enough to fret over. My approximate average for all 134 sprints so far has been approximately 1100 words per hour — a total of 147,400 words so far in 134 hours of writing!

My on-going goal is to add 1500 new words to whichever manuscript I’m sprinting on that hour and hope that I come in with the second highest total.  [That’s an inside joke, since the one with highest word count has to set and announce/promote the next week’s sprint].  

Concrete Results

Since May 2013, I have been busy revising, submitting, editing, correcting, proofing, and promoting other novels I’d previously written. Remember at the beginning of this article my whine about how I FORMERLY lost all those weeks and months between the various rounds of editing? Well, here is how I’ve done SINCE I began weekly sprinting in May 2013:

* started, finished, contracted, edited, and had published… two novels (G&MM and SOC8) and two novellas, (1SF and P2MM).

* started, finished, revised, and have either submitted or have ready to submit… three more novels (DOE, NEBA, and SM) and one novella (NEP).

* went thru the edits (for books previously submitted and contracted) on three novels which were released during this period (CUMC, HWR, and S7MI) 

* started numerous other stories (to many to list and related the word counts).

Summary:
But I think you get my point: While (previously) I felt sort of stymied by the indeterminate lulls in the editing phases — since I’ve been sprinting for 134 weeks, I’ve been decidedly productive!

What do you think? Have sprints helped you?  Leave a comment and let us know. 

Besides 8 novels and 4 novellas (with three different royalty publishers), I’ve published non-fiction monographs, articles, book reviews, and over 120 poems; my writing has won nearly 40 awards, including several in national contests. As a newspaper photo-journalist, I published about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos.

I worked nearly 30 years in the field of librarianship. I’m a decorated USAF veteran (including a remote tour of duty in the Arctic).

I’m the married parent of two and grandparent of six.

2 thoughts on “Writing Sprints; I’m a Believer [Updated REPOST]”

  1. I totally agree, Katina Drennan.
    And even with only one hour per week, you can really move a manuscript forward.
    Of course, nobody would recommend limiting it to a single hour of writing.

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