Marathoning vs. Sprinting: What’s Your Writing Style?

By on November 20, 2014 . Category Column

We’re supposed to write every day. That’s kind of the mantra of writers.

But man, writing daily can be hard. Especially in a rigid, structured manner. Some authors are very good about sitting down at exactly 9am and writing until 1pm and then having lunch and then…

But what about those of us who aren’t yet in a position to structure our days around our writing, and must instead structure our writing around our days? We scrape together bits of hours to plot out our books, we steal moments here and there throughout the day and scrounge up whatever spare time we can to put words on the page. Then, occasionally, we get a little extra time and we’re so overwhelmed we don’t even know how to deal with it.

For those of us who can’t yet seem to get in a writing groove, there are two kinds of writing sessions: Sprints and Marathons.


If you’ve followed my suggestion to join the Twitter writing community, then you may have come across the fun tradition of writing sprints, prompts, and other challenges to help get your juices flowing.

Sprints are a great way to make sure you write a little every day. Do a thirty (or even ten!) minute sprint and you’ll get some words on the page, which is the key to this whole “writing” thing.

I do sprints whenever I can. You can jump on the #WriteClub hashtag (which is active always, with official sprints every Friday evening) and join in with some writing buddies for encouragement, inspiration, and that little push we all need to get ourselves going.

But sprinting isn’t the only way to write.

In fact, for me, while sprints are great for getting words on the page, I find I sometimes need something more intense.

That’s when I marathon.


Sprinting is lighthearted—it’s fun. It’s social. You can jump on a sprint whenever you feel inclined, go as long as you like, and drop out when you need to.

Marathoning is buckling down for the long haul.

Unlike sprinting, it can’t be done sporadically (well…yes it can, but I don’t recommend it): Marathons must be planned out, and the time must be deliberately set aside, or offered up (hey! You have a day off work and everyone else is out of the house!) readily for you to take advantage of.

I recently marathoned half a book. I had a deadline, and needed to finish within a week. Everything else went on the back-burner; I hunkered down with as much tea as I could get, put on my headphones, and wrote. And wrote. And wrote. This wasn’t a sprint, and like a real marathon, you have to pace yourself.

You also have to train beforehand with plenty of little sprints and practice runs—marathoning is not for the faint of heart. It’s a big undertaking and just like in an actual marathon, lack of know-how can really trip you up

But you know what? Marathoning is incredibly productive. In four days, I managed to finish what can take months or even years to do. Was it the best writing I’ve ever done? No way. But it was done! A finished manuscript is something I can work with. And it went from half-finished to completely done (with editing!) in just four days.

However, holing up in your room, spending ten hours a day writing for days on end is unrealistic for most of us. Maybe we can pull it off here and there, but for the most part, we’re simply not able to block out that much time a day for writing. And you’re beat after a marathon—I needed a day off to recuperate from that writing session, because it was intense. Fun, but so intense.

On the days when you simply cannot carve out the time to do real writing sessions, I recommend sprints. As I said before: You get a little writing done with a sprint, and sometimes, that’s all you can manage. I’ll take ten to twenty minutes of writing over no writing at all any day.

And some of us will never be marathoners. Some of us will never be sprinters. That’s completely valid. Either way, whether you sprint or marathon, or do something completely different, the point is to get some words down every day. Every word adds up, and before you know it, you have tens of thousands of those things all strung together in what we like to call a “book”!


What’s the most productive writing style you’ve ever tried?


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