setting a timer: how word sprints can help you fast draft your novel

I’ve participated in Nanowrimo every year since 2006, so I’m no stranger to fast-drafting a novel.  One of the great concepts Nanowrimo introduced me to is the idea of word sprints, and I’ve been able to use word sprints outside of Nanowrimo in order to fast draft novels any time of year.

A word sprint means using a timer and committing yourself to writing as many words as you can in that period of time.  

You get to choose the length of time that works for you.  I generally do well with 15- or 20-minute sprints.  It’s enough time that I can get invested in a scene, but not so much that I’m floundering at the end, wondering what will happen next.  During Nanowrimo, about 3 word sprints will get me to my daily word count goal of 1,667 words easy-peasy.  

If you’re a busy bee, you can use word sprints to crank out writing between tasks.  I’ve done word sprints while dinner is cooking (using my oven timer!).  I’ve also done word sprints for the length of one record side, which gives me the additional bonus of background music.  Commercial breaks are also great times to write, while the TV is muted.

When you’re racing against the clock, you don’t have time to get distracted by Facebook or Twitter or Netflix.  You won’t stop to fact-check yourself, you can just write a note to do that later and then keep going!  (Turns out, most of the time I spend “researching” for some very important plot point equates to roughly 1 sentence in my WIP). After the sprint, you can do all those distracting things, but for that brief moment of time, you are super focused on just writing.

A fun thing you can try is to have a writer friend word sprint alongside you. Then you can turn it into a mini competition to see who has the highest word count at the end of your sprint!

I don’t use word sprints all the time – that’s just exhausting.  There is a lot to be said for slow-drafting a novel, taking your time to get to know your characters and let the plot points fall into place, considering your words.  

For times when you just need to get the first draft done so you can begin the slow work of revision, word sprints are a tool you want to have in your back pocket.  

Are you participating in Nanowrimo? Be my writing buddy! What are your tips for maximum word count?

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