One of my favorite sayings in Japanese is one that I think applies to multiple aspects of life, but also writing in particular: “Chiri mo tsumoreba, yama to naru.” It means that even dust, when piled up, can become a mountain — that with steady accumulation, transformation is possible.
If writing were a sprint, I’d be trying to write my WIP 200K-novel in 4 days instead of 6 months like I’m doing now. While entirely possible to achieve, it is highly improbable if you don’t have a lifestyle that’s conducive to such productivity. And that high improbability is what makes writing one of the hardest professions in the world.
But with all this talk of writing novels and longer works and writing being slow and steady, does the sprint have any place in the writing-sphere? Is there any benefit to “writing quickly?”
From what I’ve found, yes. And on this week’s Writing Wednesday post, I’m going to show you my weekly idea-generation strategy using freewriting sprints.
For those of you that don’t know what freewriting is, it is basically writing without censorship. Without regards for spelling, grammar, punctuation (or even with regards to spelling, grammar and punctuation — totally up to you), you write whatever comes to your mind, unfiltered and without stopping to correct yourself. It can be used as a preliminary thought-gathering system, a warm-up for what you’re going to write next, a way to vent about the injustice of Haagen Daas bars — anything you want.
So long as you don’t. Stop. Writing.
It can help you get out of blocks, help you not be so self-critical, and — yes, get your fingers moving as fast as they can. And the more you get your fingers moving across the keys, the more your thoughts will become clearer and stronger.
“Okay, Kaleiyah,” you say. “I’m a writer. I want all those things. Where do I start?”
“Okay, writer,” I say back to you. “Here’s my routine. The routine might not work for you, so you can modify it however you want. But here’s mine.”
- Find a writing prompt generator.
- Get a new prompt.
- Set a timer for three minutes and ten seconds.
- Start timer.
- When the timer reaches the 3 minute-mark, write!
- Stop writing when timer hits zero.
You’re probably either scared of those steps or angry at them.
Good. Let me tell you why I think you might be.
If you’re scared of that three-minute-ten-second time limit, let me tell you that it’s way more time than you think it is. If you’ve never done freewriting before, you’re not going to be used to writing for five, ten, fifteen or twenty minutes at a time. When I did freewriting sessions in school, I enjoyed them, but I kept running out of things to say or think about while writing because I didn’t have the training for it.
If I had started small, then worked my way up to longer sessions, then I’d be in much better shape. Nobody expects anybody to run a marathon after only running a quarter mile on the treadmill. You have to train for it. You need to know what it’s like to have your fingers move. You need to know what it’s like to be craving honey barbecue Fritos while your protagonist is fleeing from a sandstorm because then you’ll realize that your protagonist in the sandstorm won’t be rescued until your writerly butt is in its chair, banging out those words, and is denying yourself honey barbecue Fritos.
Don’t worry. Right now, all you’re doing is building stamina.
If you’re angry at that super short time time limit and would like to bump up the time, that’s fine. So long as you have the stamina, you can freewrite however much you want.
It’s all about stamina, folks. Endurance.
Because guess what?
You’re going to writing for the rest of your life. You best get used to it.
But enough about that. How can we put those mini freewriting sprints to good use?
Your freewriting sprints will be ugly. I know they will because mine are. They’re riddled with typos, repeated words, ramblings, the gambit.
But that’s okay. They’re supposed to be that way. They’re designed to make you bulldoze through any blocks and distractions you have, because Carpe Diem! You’re a writer, dang it! You need to get those fingers buff!
Yes, there are typos. Yes, I’m not transcribing anything, which is what a typing test would require. And in order for this exercise to be as effective as possible, you can’t censor yourself. And it’s quite possible you’re going to have to wean yourself from the Backspace and Enter keys, because they will break your flow and distract you. Even some punctuation is dangerous to mess with. I might type the same word over and over again, but that typing is valuable.
Because I’m training my brain to let Jesus, or whatever storytelling force is in me, to take the wheel.
Writers usually need a spark — a writing prompt, a niggling idea they’ve had in the back of their mind for awhile, an image, a song they listened to recently, a book of prompts, a story generator, whatever works — to get their writing going. Sort of like how turning the key in the car’s ignition ignites the oil and the pistons in the engine.
I like to use this website right here for idea generation. And instead of writing for twenty minutes, like the prompt usually says, I just write for three.
I also like to write without listening to any music during those three minutes and ten seconds so that I can get the full, untapped flow of whatever ideas come to me.
If you do this free-writing routine enough times, you’ll have a bunch of seeds for new stories to choose from. Maybe some of the seeds relate to each other. Maybe they don’t. But now that you’ve done these sprints and gathered those ideas, you no longer have any excuses for lakc of inspiration.
So not only do you practice your writing skills. You figure out which ideas to keep and which ideas to toss. Which is an invaluable thing as a writer.
But don’t be fooled. Your ideas will likely not come out perfect.
You need time to sit with them and to assess their potential as stories.
After looking at all your little sprint pieces, find the one that you’re most excited about. Maybe it’s something about the characters or the plot that gets you going, or a certain phrase you happen to write on the fly.
Then revise it. Add more details. Flesh out the world, if you need to. Get some feedback on it once you feel it’s up to snuff.
When doing these sprints, you’re essentially doing the same thing that visual artists like to do with gesture drawings. As the narrator says in the video, you stay “in the moment,” and your “hands” (or “hand,” if you type with one hand) become “an extension of your brain.” You’re training yourself to capture story information so that you can use it later. And the more focused you get, the better you write.
So hop to it.
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That’s it from me! See you next post!