speed writing

Writing in Bursts: Quick Progress for Busy Writers

I’m starting to enjoy a new writing strategy: writing in three-minute bursts. Three minutes feels like almost nothing, so it’s completely non-threatening and makes no real disruption to your day. Once you’ve done a handful of them, though, the word count starts building up. If you don’t have large patches of free time to give to your writing, this is one way to keep making progress each day.

I use the Session Target tool in Scrivener to make this even more fun and productive. Session Target is a progress bar that fills as you approach a word count target you get to set. I set it for my three-minute word count record and see if I can beat it in the next burst.

[Edit: Bursts also pair well with this new motivational tool I made for myself: Writing Mission Generator]

Yesterday I peaked at 157 words on my second burst, which is pretty crazy. My usual rate for composing new prose is 10-25 words per minute, so I doubled the high end. I never quite reached that rate again over several more bursts, but it pushed me hard and several bursts hit 120 words or more. Best of all, the quality was comparable to what I usually create.

Short version: I wrote over 1,500 words yesterday without setting aside any major writing time.

Your numbers may be higher or lower than mine; that’s not really the point. A page a day is a book a year. A page is 250-350 words. Even if you only manage 30 or 40 words per burst, that’s 6 or 8 bursts. Three-minute bursts.

You can do one instead of checking Facebook one time. You can do one while you wait for your Pop-Tarts to pop or your tea to brew. Shave 3 minutes off each break you take. Squeeze in a burst between phone calls. Three minutes is nothing. There’s three-minutes-es all over the place. And if you’re pushing yourself to go faster with each one, you’ll be pushing your upper limit. It’s not hard to sustain ridiculous speed for a measly three minutes.

Two things to bear in mind:

1. For this method to work, it needs to be frictionless. Have your writing up with the cursor in the right place, ready to pick back up immediately. Have a three-minute timer easily accessible. I like e.ggtimer.com/3min. Have some idea what’s next in the story; using your first burst to quickly sketch out what you’ll write today may be a good plan if you’re having trouble with this. And being a fast typist is a big help.

2. This method is for busy writers who don’t have the time (or, as the case may be, discipline) to set aside large chunks of writing time. If there’s any way you can manage uninterrupted chunks of an hour or more, do that instead. You’ll build writing momentum and have less overhead to deal with in the form of remembering where you left off and getting your head in the right space.

If you really want to supercharge your writing, I highly recommend Rachel Aaron’s incredible post, How I Went from Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day. Part of her strategy is to set aside longer chunks of time for writing. If you want to dig deeper into her method, she’s expanded it into a book as well: 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love by Rachel Aaron.

That said, if you’re not free to go write for hours in a coffee shop, three-minute bursts will keep you limber and, more importantly, keep your word count rising. Making writing bursts a regular habit will also help reduce friction in your writing overall. The more I scatter quick bursts of writing through my day, the more I find myself able to pick up and make useful progress on a moment’s notice, which is an incredibly useful skill for a writer with a busy life.

I also find that it seeds my thinking. The quick dips back into the world of my story leave me attuned to the next story decision, the next scene or moment or action. My brain works on it in the background because it knows that any moment it may need to dive back in and produce at breakneck speed for a few minutes.

Best of all, it’s really fun. It adds a bit of excitement and challenge to my day, and it feels awesome to recapture bits of time I would have just been spacing out or transitioning between activities and turning those useless moments into cold, hard word count.

If you try this out I’d love to hear how it worked for you. Any similar writing strategies you’ve used in the past? Drop me a comment below and let me know.

Cheers!

—Ben