This morning, I went for a run. I did some long division and paper calculations afterwards, and it turns out that I ran at an average speed of 3.4 mph, which my running app doesn’t even classify as running. “Are you sure you didn’t walk?” it winks. Yes, I am, thankyouverymuch.
A very misleading introduction. Obviously, in the spirit of Murakami, I am not actually talking about running. I want to talk about sprinting when you write.
I have trained myself to produce a lot of words in not a lot of time. My fingers know how to type quickly, pretty much of their own accord, with little input from my brain. With four NaNoWriMos under my belt, I’m a trained sprinter. It’s the only way I know how; throw down lots of words and then painstakingly sieve through them to find the good ones. Efficient? Not really. The first draft gets done in a hurry, but working for quantity rather than quality also means having to discard large chunks of the initial draft in editing mode. But sprinting gets the words out, and it works for me.
With four and a half months to write 20-30,000 words, I thought I’d try writing slowly, and write three beautiful sentences every day, and at the end of it there would be a perfect first draft. Yeah, not so much. As the deadline creeps closer, I find myself sprinting again. Some weird part of me wants the time pressure, and the exhileration of not really knowing what you’re writing while you’re writing it.
Has this description of my compulsive word-vomiting made sprinting sound appealing? Here’s an easy three-step how-to guide for you to try at home.
- Pick a reward. Yeah, that’s right, dessert first! Prepare something to indulge in at the end of the sprint. This could be anything. Literally anything. A snack! A mini dance party!
I usually load a 3-5 minute YouTube video (Tom Hiddleston doing impressions, kittens being kittens, a slam poem about being a woman) in a different window, so I can watch it when I’m done.
- Set a timer and a goal. I usually do 1k30min, which is fancy sprinting code for “1,000 words in 30 minutes”. I find it very manageable; 30 minutes is short enough for me to really concentrate, and long enough to actually get 1,000 words done. But try and see what works for you! It might be 1k60min, or 500w15min, or other combinations thereof. The key is to find a time span you can actually feasibly spend hammering out words, and a word count goal that is achievable, but still challenging.
- Write the words. And then you write the words. You hit “GO” on that timer, and start typing. Anything goes. The goal is to hit word count, not to write a masterpiece.
I said it was three steps, right? Well, here are three more things. They’re not really steps so much as additional tips for step 3.
- Dialogue always works wonders for me when I’m stuck and I don’t know how to finish my sprint. What one character says leads to what the next character says, and I can’t leave them hanging, talking to themselves.
- Also, stream of consciousness is your friend. Drop the punctuation and just go for it. Dig into a character’s thoughts, or describe the setting. Remember that you can always edit things later, flesh out ideas and put all that punctuation back in. The sprint is just about getting the ideas out of your head and onto the page.
- If you don’t quite make it to your word count goal, that’s okay. You still wrote x amount of words that you didn’t have before. And you can always adjust your sprinting time and your word count goals accordingly.
And that’s it. On a good day, I can do about 5,000 words before I go slightly insane. Yesterday, I only did one sprint before I succumbed to the seductive powers of chocolate brownie ice cream and House of Cards. But it’s still 1,000 words I didn’t have before. It works. It gets the words out.
Do it now!
(If you want to. I can’t make you. Live your life.)
And let me know how it goes!