How to Use a Sprint Journal

RamonaGravitarLike 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.journals

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:

  1. I am very specific. I note precisely which scene or section I plan to write or address.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

  1. journals 2Buy a journal. Mine is large and plain, but anything that is practical and aesthetically pleasing will do.
  2. Keep the journal in your Writing Hour space or bag.
  3. Every Writing Hour, note the date and specific writing goals for the day. Keep them short and do-able.
  4. 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.


Sprint with me on Facebook or on Twitter at #WritingwithRamona

Other posts in this series: How to Write an Hour at a Time and How to Make the Most of a Writing Hour

13 thoughts on “How to Use a Sprint Journal

  1. I, too, have a pile of journals. I love the feel of them, the smell, the look. I dedicate each one to a specific purpose. But in about a week, I’ve started to skip a day, then two, then a week, and then it’s “oh, why bother now?” All of them have the first few pages full to bursting and the rest pristine. Now you’ve given me an idea that not only will use them up but help me keep focused on the book. BTW, I am also going to use your tip about calming. Another problem I have is that when I set up a specific hour to write, I spend the first half of it staring at the screen or writing streaming nonsense to get my head into what I’m trying to write. Then I feel frustrated because now I only have half an hour — people are waiting at the end of it because I promised to go to the store (or whatever) if they wait for just that one hour. I think taking that one minute to calm down might be just the thing I need to make the other 59 more productive. Thanks for some great advice!


    1. Ginie, I am usually rushing around, so that calming moment is vital. Sometimes it’s simply long inhale, slow exhale; other times, I need a minute to close my eyes and wait for my body to still.

      I can’t say this will work for you, or everyone, but the purpose of the Sprint journal is to give you a small, specific goal, so that when you open the screen, you know exactly what you need to write. Even for a pantser (someone who does not plan or outline) that much of a nudge may help. But also, if all you get out of your writing hour is 15 minutes, that’s 15 more than you had before, right?


  2. Reblogged this on Year of the Book and commented:
    More irresistible advice from Ramona on Sprinting. Keep a journal (with just a 1-2 sentence daily entry on what you plan to write). Always looking forward. Always feeling progress.
    And the last paragraph of her blog will give even Eeyore enough reason to think it could work!


  3. A wonderful post, as always. I, too, love journals. I have one that I jot ideas in for various stories, but I like the idea of having a journal dedicated to a particular book.

    Do you keep a separate journal for short stories? Your short story (The Chances) in Someone Wicked This Way Comes is wonderful. Chilling and suspenseful throughout!


    1. Thanks, Cindy. I want to do a future post on how to keep a book bible, which is a different animal.

      I don’t keep a separate journal for short stories, but that’s probably because I”ve been focusing on this novel manuscript and have put aside short stories for a while. However, I write a lot of my short story drafts (most, in fact) in longhand, and I have several fat notebooks full of stories. The daily journal for Sprinting is new to me too, by about a year, and I do love it.

      Thank you for the kind words about The Chances! It was a fun story to write–way out of my comfort zone, so I’m so thankful for the feedback. It was a great collection.


  4. I have big, bad issues with organization. I also have the idea that a new journal will change my life even though the previous thousand, which are piled up all over the apartment, haven’t. The Sprint Journal, however, sounds like something that could change a tiny bit of my life, and that’s a start. Thank you.


  5. Hi, Ramona. I’m a little late to the party here, but I’m really enjoying reading some of your “how-to” blog entries. I struggle with consistency in every area of my life, because I’ve always allowed myself to wait for inspiration. However, I’ve seen the error of my ways! I read all three entries in this series and now believe that I can do this. Thank you for breaking things down and helping me to find a time that will fit in with all my other craziness (the questions in the first part helped me narrow it down). I’m most creative at night, so I’ve decided on 9:00-10:00 p.m. for my hour. Now to notify my friends and family. Thanks so much for this wisdom. I look forward to reading the rest of the entries (just not in my sacred hour).


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