5 Types Of Writing Sprints – And Why You Need This Tool

Ales Krivec


If you keep word count logs–and if you aspire to be a prolific writer you absolutely should be keeping word logs–then you have probably noticed that over time your word count per hour slowly diminishes.

There are a few reasons this happens.

  1. Because there is no pressure while you are writing, you get slower and more finicky about word choices, and start thinking through what you are writing.
  2. Even when in flow, you will allow the editorial voice to intrude just enough to check your speed.
  3. Also, when you are writing with no pressure to keep going, it is very easy to allow yourself to click away to just check a quick fact, or have a look at email. Any type of clicking away is fatal to your writing speed. Even if you come back immediately, it will take you several minutes to get back in the flow. Your writing speed takes the hit.

On the other hand, sprints, no matter what type you use, pour on the gas.

Word sprints lift your word count per hour up to higher levels than ever before. If you’ve never done sprints before, then you will be amazed at the speeds you can reach per hour through word sprints.

On the plus side, that speed stays with you for quite a while, before beginning to diminish again.

Whenever my word count starts dropping, I use a few days or a week’s worth of word sprints to raise it up again. I can coast for several weeks before the count begins to diminish to the point where I’m no longer happy with my pace.  Then I do another round of word sprints to get count back up again.

If you’ve always considered yourself a slow writer, word sprints will teach you how to write fast. You will never again be happy with the snail’s pace you were using before.

And finally, word sprints are a fantastic way to make yourself start a writing session. If just starting is an issue for you, make a ten or fifteen or twenty minute sprint the first thing you do. You won’t want to stop after that, whether the timer is ticking or not.

Fast does not equal crap.

Just in case you are hesitant to try word sprints, because you don’t want to have to wade through the tsunami of crap you produce, let me add here that fast does not equal crap. If you want further convincing of this, read my series of posts about the subject, here.

The idea behind sprints is not to spew anything upon the page. You go as fast as you can, while still stringing together sentences which work. And, of course, you can always fix it later. Quite often though, you don’t have to fix anything. Because speed makes the internal editor shut up, and you’re working purely from your writer’s instincts, what you write is often better than you would if you actually slowed down and thought it through carefully.

Five types of word sprints

Here are five different styles of word sprints. Pick and choose, or try all of them and see which fits you best.


The Pomodoro technique is used by efficiency experts and productivity hounds everywhere. It works perfectly for writers, too. The generally accepted technique is to set your timer for twenty-five minutes.

(Tip: both Windows and the Mac operating system have inbuilt timers. Android and iOS both have timers, too.)

Hit “go” on the timer and start writing. Don’t stop until the timer goes off. You don’t have to go fast. You just can’t stop typing. Avoid taking your hands off the keyboard.

You can stop and think about what comes next, if you really want to. If this is what you usually do, then do it.

When the timer goes off, stop for five minutes. You can either start a new Pomodoro after that, or move on to a different task.

Make sure you record what your word count is.

What this type of sprint is good for:

Teaching you to not click away, to keep your hands on the keyboard, and to keep writing. If distractions and shiny objects are an issue for you, this is a good one to start with.

Chris Fox Style Word Sprints

Chris Fox, in his book, 5,000 Words Per Hour, suggests sprinting this way:

  1. Figure out what happens for the next few pages of your story. Write down short beats if you need to.
  2. Set the timer for five, ten or twenty minutes.
  3. Write as fast as you can. Keep the gas pedal to the floor. If you don’t know what happens next, write “I don’t know what happens next”. Or figure out with your keyboard what comes next by talking to yourself.  As soon as you know, start a new line and keep going. Don’t stop to think of better words. If there something you need to check, insert an xxx in your manuscript and keep going.
  4. When the timer goes off, stop and record your word count.
  5. Take a five minute break.

What this type of sprint is good for:

Teaching you how to write faster than you ever have before.

The sort of pace you need to keep up to get through one of the sprints is an artificial high. Then, when the pressure is off, and the timer is not ticking, and because you have learned to write at a faster speed via the sprints, your natural speed will have been elevated as a result.

It will also teach you not to click away from the keyboard.

Chained Sprints

These are exactly what they sound like. Use either the Pomodoro or Chris Fox style sprint, but before you begin, decide if you want to do two, three or more of them in a row.

When the timer goes off and you rest, make your five minute or ten minute break something totally unrelated to writing. Move away from the keyboard, bend and stretch, drink water, meditate.

Then go back and start writing again.

Only when you have finished your predetermined number of sprints in a row, do you stop for a longer break, and tally your word count.

If your word count does not increase per sprint over the length of the chained sprints, I will be surprised.

What this type of sprint is good for:

Chained sprints teach you how to write steadily for longer periods of time, while also writing fast, and not letting yourself be interrupted.

They build up your endurance. And yes, endurance is a real thing.

If you would like to build up to longer writing sessions, then set yourself a schedule that includes chained sprints that increase by one each day or every second day.


Mini-marathons are for those writers who are already quite comfortable with longer writing sessions.

Set up your writing sprints for fifty minutes with a ten minute break, or ninety minutes with a fifteen minute break, or any variation in between. I’ve tried ninety minutes and find it a little too long to maintain a tight focus. You may find it a natural fit for you, though.

Anything much longer than ninety minutes defeats the purpose of the sprint. It is not sustainable. You can try it, but I would be surprised if you make it through one sprint without pause.

I like the fifty minute sprints, because I don’t feel like I’m dropping and picking up mental story strings, and I can stay in flow for longer.

What this type of sprint is good for: 

Teaching you to stay in flow once you reach it, while maximizing your speed.

Mini-marathons are also good for picking up your base speed once it drops off.

Dictation Sprints

If you dictate your novels, you can use any of the sprints above, while dictating.

What this type of sprint is good for:

Depending on your choice of sprint, you will gain all the same benefits as writers who use keyboards. In addition, you are training yourself and your Dragon (if you use Dragon), or your dictation software, to handle the higher speeds.

It will teach you to think on your feet.

You will be blown away by the wordage you put upon the page.

Keep records of your sprints

No matter which type of sprint you try, keep records. You should keep them separately from your word count logs, which record word count over a single session. You can have many sprints within a single writing session, so keeping a separate count will avoid making your word logs overly complicated.

Then you can watch your hourly word rate rise slowly but surely.

When you return to “normal” writing, you will still be writing at a far greater speed than you were.

Over the long term, your base rate, even when it has diminished to a “resting state” will still be higher than it used to be.

Which just sucks, right?

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