What Are Story Sprints?

Several weeks ago, I started the Twitter hashtag #StorySprints. The hashtag is included in the tweets I post for the 10 and 15-minute writing exercise videos I record and upload to my Google Drive every Tuesday and Friday.

I first got the inspiration for story sprints from Natalie Goldberg’s writing craft books. I highly recommend two of them: Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within and Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir. Natalie recommends doing five to 10-minute sprints as writing warm-ups.

I also encountered sprints in writing workshops facilitated by Vanessa Gebbie and Tania Hershman. They both call the sprints “writing cricket,” but they work the same as Natalie’s writing exercises.

So…how do they work? They’re simple, but can be very effective in jump starting your imagination. I’ve posted a shorter sample session below, which I recorded for National Writing Day a couple of weeks ago. This one is only eight minutes long, whereas my usual sessions are 10 minutes long on Tuesdays and 15 minutes long on Fridays.

In my videos, which I’ve been recording through Zoom, I give an opening line for your story.
I set the timer for the allotted time and tell you, “Go.”
You start writing. At one-minute intervals, I’ll call out a prompt word for you to incorporate into your story.
This is the really important part: you don’t lift your pen from the page. You don’t cross out or edit. You keep writing for eight minutes nonstop.
Using the whiteboard function incorporated in Zoom, I type the prompt words on the screen once I say them.
All you have to do is click the video link, listen, and write.
Anyone can do this warm-up exercise — writers, poets, etc.

I, personally, find these kinds of exercises very helpful because there is no time for self-editing or self-doubt. If you’re committed to doing the exercise properly, you must keep going until time is up. That means you might end up with some really bizarre paragraphs, but that’s the point. You have no idea what prompt word I’m going to call out next, but you have to figure out how to work it into your writing somehow. It’s very freeing to just go wherever your subconscious takes you in the moment.

And the beauty of it is, you don’t have to keep any of it, but may be you’ll be able to glean a kernel of a great idea for a first draft of a flash, poem, short story, or even a book (one can dream).

Give it a try. Get a pen/pencil and paper ready (you can use a computer, but this exercise works best with pen/paper so you won’t be tempted to backspace or delete and break up the flow), click on the video below, and write. Oh, and have fun!

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