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Write: Building Your Momentum (and Word Count) with #1k1h Writing Sprints #ReadySetWrite

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Building Your Momentum (and Word Count) with #1k1h Writing Sprints #ReadySetWrite | KayeDacus.comSometimes, when you’re in the middle of your manuscript and you just can’t seem to move forward—and even storyboarding doesn’t help—the only thing that does help is setting a timer and making yourself write, marathon-style.
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One Hour, One Thousand Words

If you’re on Twitter and if you follow other writers, you may have seen the #1k1h tag and wondered what it meant. I did a bit of research (okay, I Googled for about ten minutes) and couldn’t track down the originator of this hashtag, but it’s been around for years. And it’s something that I found quite helpful in the years when I had to complete a 90–100k manuscript every three to four months.

The name somewhat describes what you’re supposed to do—set aside one hour (timed) with the goal of writing 1,000 words in your story. Sounds simple enough, right?

Well, yes and no.

I’ve never been able to write 1,000 words in one hour.

Building Your Momentum (and Word Count) with #1k1h Writing Sprints #ReadySetWrite | KayeDacus.com

Old-Fashioned Water Pump (source).

In one hour, if you’ve prepared, planned, and organized ahead of time, most writers can easily write 1,000 words or more. But not everyone can do this. Sometimes, no matter how well-prepared we are, the words just won’t come. And some people will never be fast writers.

While this is a great exercise for building word count, it’s an even better exercise for being able to start writing on command—and to stop when a timer goes off. It’s also a great way to build the habit of writing every day.

I’ve used this example multiple times, but I’m pulling it out again—just like an old-fashioned water pump, the more often we work at it, the easier it will flow. So if you start out only being able to write 500 or 700 words during that hour, the more often you do it, the more likely you are to be able to build up to 1,000 words, or more.

What if I don’t know what to write when it’s time to start the 1k1h?

When you sit down for that 1k1h sprint and you stare at that flashing cursor waiting for the words to come, and they don’t, DO NOT walk away from it and give yourself the excuse that you’ll just take a break and do it later. You know it’s unlikely that you’ll have any better of an idea of what to write in two hours than you do right now. And then you’ll have wasted additional time that you could have been writing.

Fourteen years ago, when I was writing what would become my first completed manuscript, I got to a point at which (being a seat of the pants writer with no synopsis, only a vague story idea) I had no idea where my story was going. But I needed to write. So since I’d just gone to the grocery store that evening after work, I wrote one of my characters doing the same thing. I had him get his basket. I had him pick out produce. I got him through the store all the way to the frozen-food section—where, surprisingly, he ran into another major character; and, all of a sudden, I had a scene that moved the story forward again.

Last week, on my regular Tuesday writing night, I ended up doing the same thing. I realized a couple of months ago that my original premise, while strong, just wasn’t working for me. So I restarted (and wrote an opening in a different viewpoint character’s POV, changing the setting and situation, and thus the inciting incident, entirely) and was feeling a little better about what I’d written. But then I started a new chapter. And nothing happened. I was stuck. Not having an idea of where the story was going to go, I decided to take my own advice and just drop a character (an existing character, but not originally expected to be a POV character) into a situation and see what happened. He started a conversation with someone and then—after about 1,200 words and with only three minutes of the hour left—WHAM! I had a breakthrough idea about this character. I grabbed the notepad I always keep beside the computer when I’m writing and jotted down a sketch of the idea so that I wouldn’t forget it next time I sit down to write. (Right now, I’m only writing one day each week. I plan to increase that gradually until it’s more of an everyday thing.)

It sounds mundane and like bad writing (and it’s probably something you’d end up cutting most of in a revision), but not only are you working at that creative pump, you can also learn more about your character by doing something like that.

So exactly how does 1k1h work?

  1. No Interruptions. Pick a time when you know you can have sixty minutes of uninterrupted time. Sometimes, it helps to pick a location in which you don’t usually work—a cafe or coffee shop, a library, or even a different room in your house. Just make sure it’s somewhere it’s guaranteed you won’t be disturbed.
  2. No Procrastinating. Commit yourself to doing nothing but writing during that hour. No emails, no Facebook or Twitter, no blog reading/writing, no research. No thesaurus or dictionary. If you don’t know a word, can’t think of the right word, or aren’t sure you’re using a word correctly, just use a blank line or highlight what you’ve used so you can come back to it later. During this hour, turn off the internal editor and draft write.
  3. Unplug. A while back, a friend of mine posted a link for some software she’d purchased that will block her access to the internet for a specified period of time. Now, I’m bad about keeping my email program open when I’m sitting at the computer and reading each e-mail as it comes in when I’m supposed to be working. And now that I’ve had a smartphone for a few years, it’s even worse. Oh, yeah, and I usually sit in the living room where the TV/DVR/Roku are—and the TV is almost always on. So when doing 1k1h, it’s best to try to get away from all of that. Try working away from the computer (writing longhand) or try unplugging/turning off your modem (most laptops have a key which will sever a WiFi connection; mine is on the F2 key). Turn the TV off—or move out of the room where it is. Put your phone in Airplane Mode. For this hour, writing is your job, your profession, so act like a professional who’s on the clock—and on a deadline to produce a quota of words.
  4. Set a Timer. This is one of the most important aspects of 1k1h. If you set a timer, you’re much less likely to be continuously watching the clock to see if your hour is up or not. With the knowledge that an alarm will sound when time is up, it’s much easier to focus on your story and characters and forget about time altogether. If you’re able to leave your phone alone for an hour, most phones have a timer feature in the clock app (or I’m sure you can download one). My Surface also has a built-in clock app that includes a countdown timer with an alarm. Even though I didn’t use the iPad for writing when I had it, it had one, too. And you can download timer apps to your computer. Or use a $5 analog kitchen timer. Set it for 60 minutes and start writing.
  5. Walk Away. When time is up and the alarm sounds, STOP. If you need to finish a sentence, that’s okay. But you need to get up and walk away (after saving your work, of course—and maybe jotting a few notes for where your scene is going or what comes next). If you’ve built up momentum by the end of the hour and the words and ideas are flowing, stopping and walking away in the middle of it may be one of the best things you can do for yourself—because it makes you anxious to get back to it. So walk away, take a break, and relax for a little while. The come back, set the timer for another hour, and sprint again.

Ready? Timer Set? Write!

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