Sprint Writing: The Dos and Don’ts

As CampNaNoWriMo season begins, it seemed appropriate to return to the matter of Sprint Writing. It always surprises me how little actual advice is out there (outside of the NaNoWriMo society who offer fantastic advice) on how to go about Sprint Writing. So this is a quick and easy guide of the few bits and pieces I’ve picked up along my merry way to help you survive the month.

dos and donts of sprint writing

Firstly, what is Sprint Writing? It is hereby thus defined as…

Writing quickly or to a deadline that requires more average word count per day than is normally produced.

Okay… so I made that up right now but it seems to work. Some people will get all niggly and say that Sprint Writing is when you go mental and write like 5K in an afternoon but for me, it’s any writing that is faster than to which you are familiar. Everyone has their own pace and if you go faster than it, thus you are sprinting.

So here are my dos and don’ts…

Do…

1. Plan Ahead

I’m not a big plotter. Some people (famously JK coming to mind) love plotting out every small detail before they start. To quote a popular Pinterest theme… “ain’t nobody got time for that!!!!”

But I don’t go in blind either. I always have a rough idea of where it’s going. Whether (as in this case) it’s key events and the order in which the principle characters are introduced, a more calendar style of plotting, a document full of character backstories… or indeed a plot document longer than the novel (don’t laugh – I know people who do it), it is a case of whatever works. But the key thing with Spring Writing is not getting stuck, so plan ahead enough to know where your next marker is. Always have somewhere to write for next.

2. Give Yourself A Target

I have learnt this recently. For years, my rather helpful and specific target has been “finish the darn thing”. It has taken CampNaNoWriMo to teach me that actually, I’m much more productive when I get down and dirty with the details. Again NaNoWriMo resources are brilliant for this. However, that only happens three times a year so I set up my own Excel version. I am not a computer genius so I’m sure it isn’t fool-proof but it works well enough. You are welcome to give my Word-Count-O-Meter a go.

Word-Count-O-meter

It allows you to set yourself a desired total over ‘x’ amount of days and gives you a count to reach each day. Which leads me to…

3. Hit Said Target

Self explanatory. If it says you need to write 1754 words and you are stuck at 1500, make up two sentences, pad like a crazy person. Skip a bit and leave a note to yourself in unspaced capitals (so it doesn’t mess with word count) to go back to it later. Whatever it takes, keep to your target. It’s harder than it sounds, trust me, I know, but it is the only way I got to my target. This is the one time it’s quantity over quality. Which again leads to…

4. Be Reasonable with your aims

No one (besides maybe Hugh Howey) can write 120,000 words in a month. Put an aim that works for you. That’s why I like the Camps more than the main NaNoWriMo event. You can choose your own target. A popular one was 30K. I wrote for 60K (about a 2K a day average) both of which were doable. I had a cabin mate who wrote to 85K and finished before the lot of us, so I’m not saying that large word counts aren’t doable, I’m just saying tailor them to that which you are capable.

4. Have Fun

Chances are, if you are launching yourself into a Sprint Writing, you actually enjoy this whole writing lark. So don’t forget that bit. I love that rush when you are just creating. When no one cares how many adverbs you use, or if your prose is so repetitive it hurts or if your conversations are all plastic and full of woffle (non-plot related content aka padding). It is all about the story and not so much about the telling first time around. What I really love with Spring Writing is the added bonus of living the adventure. It helped I chose first person present for my narrative style  last time out but because I was writing so fast, I felt like I was living the story real time. If you feel like you want to jump off the nearest bridge, then you probably either ignored step 4 or you are writing a story you don’t actually want to write.

And the Don’t…

1. Stop

The biggest and most important no-no. Do. Not. Stop. By this, I am not implying that your fingers should be glued to the keyboard. You can eat and sleep and go to work. I just mean, make progress every day. Don’t let yourself get stuck. Write your way out of blocks. Sprint Writing is about not taking breath until you reach the ribbon. If you lose momentum it is that much harder to pick it up again.

2. Stay Inside The (Plotting) Box

Everyone in my cabin that finished to their deadlines had to get creative at one point or another. In other words, don’t hold yourself hostage to your own plot. I know one girl ended up having her character spontaneously arrested. That is the sort of stuff that happens. Just let it happen. It’s part of writing around blocks. If you get stuck in one direction, find a new path. Add new characters. Kill people off. Go wild. You can always undo it again when it comes to drafting.

3. Treat it as a Final Draft

Hell, don’t even treat it like a first draft. The 60K I wrote was some of the roughest work I have ever produced. But it was never about the writing. It was about laying out the story. Don’t let yourself edit as you go along. You’ll get tied in knots and never finish. If you can help it, don’t read it back either. That helps stave away the editing bug. It is not meant to read as literary fiction. Don’t worry about colouring inside the lines, there will be plenty of time later to take the rock and polish it into a diamond. The masterpiece will come in time. But every masterpiece needs a rough outline underneath and that is what this draft will be.

4. Get tied up in the details

Say goodbye to continuity. (Unless you are one of the afore mentioned, detailed plotters then you have a better chance than us fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants types). Last time out, I had a tiger whose gender changed so often I honestly didn’t know whether it was male or female anymore. I’m pretty sure I changed how I spelt my lead characters name at some point since the beginning and I’m pretty sure they referred to conversations that hadn’t actually happened. But it’s all part of the Sprinting. I have since gone back and neaten all that up. I knew what I need to neaten up. I added those conversations, I tied down the spelling (pretty sure that’s spellchecker’s fault, the red lines were driving me nuts so I surrendered to its vision) and I finally gave my tiger a calling. In short, let it be messy. Messy is good. Messy is fun. Messy is where you find creative genius (or so I tell myself).

And finally,

5. Think It Won’t Need Editing.

It will. Lots. Resign yourself now.

Sprint Writing is a lot of fun for me. I would really, really recommend the camps for anyone who enjoys writing and sharing writing with people. I love having like-minded people with me and the tools for word count tracking are excellent. As far as I can work out, the key to Sprint Writing is disengaging the brain and going to that part of the mind that creates our dreams and just living there for a while, linking it up directly with the fingers. It is about writing. It isn’t about anything more. It is about telling a story in whatever manner you can. It is about, at the end of the day, having fun.