Like many writers, I keep a notebook called a book bible. The book bible for my current WIP, a novel written in the episodic style, is a beat-up, bright green notebook with fraying pages, a precarious spiral spine, and an array of Post-its in various shapes and colors poking from the edges.
A book bible is used to record ideas, changes, concepts, goals, for a work in progress. It’s a planning aid. This post, however, is not about book bibles; I am introducing the book bible idea to get it out of the way. What I want to discuss today is my Sprint Journal.
I own a lot of pretty journals. Many of them are pristine inside. When I was a young girl, I invariably received a diary for my birthday, and those remained blank as well. I stink at keeping a diary or personal journal, and while I continue to collect the journals, only a few are ever put to use.
My Sprint Journal? It’s a life saver, on a daily basis.
What is a Sprint Journal?
On Tuesday, I explained the Sprint method—writing for one hour without interruption, with a goal of 1000 words. 1hr/1K works for creating new words in intense bursts, and is great to keep your head in your story and your manuscript’s progression on a steady clip. On Wednesday, I expanded on how to best use a Writing Hour, whether you are aiming to add to your word count or revise a draft.
In both posts, I mention my trusty Sprint Journal. Simply put, a Sprint Journal is a daily record of what you plan to work on in your writing hour. Every morning, before I sit down to write and/or revise for my Writing Hour, I record the date in my journal and write a few lines addressing what I’ll work on for the next hour. I am very specific:
~ Start dinner party scene. Plant seed about beach house rental problem.
The next day, my journal entries might include:
~ Finish dinner party scene. Have C. confused about the beach house. Is he joking?
Day three might be:
~Chuck opening of dinner party scene and rewrite. Stronger conflict about beach house. It’s not about the house, it’s about his disregard for her schedule/job.
That’s it. I meant it when I mentioned simple. Some of my entries are a bit longer, but never more than a page.
The entries work for me for three reasons:
- I am very specific. I note precisely which scene or section I plan to write or address.
- I am realistic. My notes never say “write the next three scenes” because I know I can’t write three scenes in an hour. By keeping the plan realistic, I have a better chance of completing the task in full. Completion = success. Overly ambitious = failure. I like to avoid feeling like a failure.
- I set a goal. Even if I am pantsing a scene (and I do), I am a firm believer in making goals for each scene. The same applies for the Writing Hour. I plan to accomplish one or two small things each session. The more specific and realistic my goal for a writing session, the more likely I will accomplish it. The more often I accomplish my goals, the more likely I will come back tomorrow and do it again.
Success is a good feeling.
Why is a Sprint Journal valuable for a WIP?
On a day-by-day basis, the Sprint Journal keeps me organized. It keeps me moving ahead in the story because each day I set a little goal that pushes the plot in a forward motion. If I am revising rather than writing new words, I continue to move forward. Sprinting is all about movement, about progressing an hour at a time through a writing project.
Psychologically, the Sprint Journal is a terrific aid because it’s a way of easing into the writing. Like everyone else, I have days when my mind is cluttered and/or I face the blank page with a blank mind. I may fear the blank computer screen, so the pen in hand is easier. I sit, ask myself “What do I want to accomplish today?” and because I know it won’t be a huge task, I can write a sentence or two of instructions to myself. The act of writing what I plan to write puts me in writing mode.
My Sprint Journal is my friend, my confidante, my helpmate. It’s also secret. If I write “Finish dinner party scene” for 11 days in a row, no one will know but my journal—and it doesn’t speak. You may notice that I’ve posted a photo of my book bible and another below of some journals I own. I’m not posting my Sprint Journal. It’s private.
How to Begin, and Use, a Sprint Journal
- Buy a journal. Mine is large and plain, but anything that is practical and aesthetically pleasing will do.
- Keep the journal in your Writing Hour space or bag.
- Every Writing Hour, note the date and specific writing goals for the day. Keep them short and do-able.
- Never look back. I mean that literally. Sprinting is about moving forward. Going back through your journal serves no purpose. If you write “finish dinner party scene” 11 days in a row, you are still moving forward. At some point, you’ll either finish the scene, give up on the scene, or all of your characters will die of food poisoning.