Writing Sprint or Word Count?


The age-old question.

I have my coffee, my article outline, and an hour to write.

Should I set my timer for 25 minutes, say “Go,” and write as fast as I can?

Or, should I say I’m finished when I reach 500 words?

When I’ve read articles on this topic in the past, they seem to view these as either/or options.

I’ve used both techniques, as have my academic editing clients. The trick is to know when to use which technique.

Here’s a quiz:

Do you fly through the first draft stage but hit a wall when it’s time to edit?

If you answered yes, try writing sprints.

Do you prioritize picking lint off of your cat’s fur over writing but love playing with words when it’s time to edit?

If you answered yes, try a word count.

Writing Sprints

The Pomodoro Method, which involves writing for 25 minutes and then taking a 5-minute break, can be most useful when you’re writing a first draft of your article or chapter.


Regardless of which time block you use (e.g., 15 minutes or 45 minutes), writing sprints encourage you to get those words down on paper. They’re so thrilled to escape the confines of your analytical mind! Let them free!

Any time you stop to cite or explore a concept, you can just insert [fix] or a comment bubble to fix it later. Don’t stop or resistance will set in.

A writing sprint encourages Anne Lamont’s sh***y first draft. Your brain knows at the end of those 25 minutes, you’ll be done for the day and get a treat.

For editing, this technique can be equally useful. The problem with editing, particularly for those of us who prefer drafting, is that it takes forever! And how do we know when we’re done? That’s why having a set amount of time can reduce anxiety, assuming you have an editing plan in place.

Word Count

If you’re writing about an emotionally difficult subject, or just anxious about writing, a word count system (try David Hale’s free writing tracking calendar) can soothe your soul.

If your article or chapter will be 10,000 words, for example, it becomes quite simple to plan a timeline. You can estimate each section’s length and then devote one week to each section.

Let’s say the results section will be 2,000 words. You can write 500 words a day, and you’ll be done with the results section by the end of the week. Hurray! Celebrate! And move on to the next section with your new momentum.

Why does this work?

Word count works because your inner critic, worry dragon, or bodyguard cannot convince you to check email because that means you still must write those 500 words at some point that day, right?

If you’re on a timer in this scenario, however, you’ll just stare out the window until it goes ‘bing!’

If you write 500 words in 25 minutes or less then you’re done for the day! And now you have more time for your cat.

Word counts are great for your first draft: you gain momentum and can map out a realistic plan to finish.

Academic writing can be a challenge. Know the right tools for the job, and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.

Dr. Rose Ernst is an academic editor and consultant who loves to support scholars in sharing their brilliance with the world. Find her at roseernst.net. Sign up for her email list here.

Academic editor and writing consultant. Former tenured professor and chair of political science. Happy fiction author. Find her at roseernst.net.

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