Writing sprints, as reintroduced by Chris Fox in his book, 5,000 Words Per Hour, is one of the most useful tools for increasing your hourly word count. I use them regularly to increase my words per hour rate.
I don’t use them all the time, for a number of reasons. I will go back to them when my word logs tell me that my hourly word rate has begun to drop again. (Entropy is alive and well.)
One of the problems with word sprints, and usually the reason that I stop using them after a while, is that they tend to interrupt you just when you reach flow.
Flow is a period of high-intensity creativity, as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. When you are in flow, time subjectively halts, you lose track of all externalities, and the words flow faster than ever. You barely notice you are typing (or dictating), and all you are aware of is the story unfolding in your head, and getting it down as quickly as possible.
When you are writing in sprints and the timer goes off after twenty-five minutes, you can feel irritated. I usually know it’s time to stop working in sprints when I get annoyed at being told to stop and take a break.
Of course, like any tool, writing sprints can be tailored to suit you in whatever way you work.
As I mentioned above, I simply stop using them after a while. I always go back to them every few months or so, to give myself the boost in speed that they impart. I like the structured 25/5 minute periods of word sprints. Until I don’t.
However, there is another way that you can combine the best of creative flow and have writing sprints, too. I haven’t tried this technique, but it seems to make sense on the surface. I more or less use this type of flow whenever I’m not using sprints, anyway.
The author, LightsAndCandy, on Medium, a couple of years ago, reported on a technique she called The Flowtime Technique. It is a more formalized way of using sprints, and benefiting from creative flow at the same time. Here’s how it works:
- Set yourself up for a writing session the same way as you would for sprints: know the beats of your story for a few pages ahead, turn off all interruptions, put on your favourite music, and settle in properly.
- Start an open-ended timer . Don’t set it for twenty-five minutes as you do for Pomodoros.
- Now write. As you do for Pomodoros and sprints, write without stopping. Aim for a pace that doesn’t buckle the rails through sheer speed. Fast-but-comfortable is best.
- Don’t stop until you find yourself organically distracted, or your attention wandering. Or perhaps there is an outside interruptions you did not count on. When this happens, when your concentration and flow is broken, stop for a break.
- Record how long you have been writing for and how many words you wrote in that session.
- How long you break for depends on how long you have been writing for. You can figure this one out for yourself, although the article on medium does outline suggested break times. Sometimes, though, if you have been writing steadily for a number of hours, a fifteen minute break might be needed even though you’ve only been writing for twenty minutes. Formalize the break before you get up from the desk. Determine how long your break will be and come back to the desk and start working once that break is finished. Don’t let it extend.
And that’s it. As you can see, it is a close variation of word sprints, that lets you maximize flow. If you can’t stand word sprints because of the constant interruptions, this might work well for you.
It has the added to the vantage of recording both the time you spent writing, and your word count for each sprint, so that you don’t have to tote them up at the end of the writing session overall.
Give it a try. I would suggest running a trial that spreads over several writing sessions, and not just one session, before abandoning it. As with all tools and techniques, this one may take time to adjust to. Although, the very nature of the flow technique means adjustments should be minimal.
Just knowing you have the timer running can increase your word count, but can also work against your attention span. You may feel pressured because the clock is ticking. That can take getting used to.
The flow technique, writing sprints, Pomodoros, etc., are fantastic for increasing your word count and your productivity. It’s worth messing around with them and finding something that works for you.