"Sprint" Towards Motivation!* -->

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"Sprint" Towards Motivation!*

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Sometimes just getting started writing can be the most daunting task. Even though I am an experienced writer, I still struggle when I start a writing project. However, once the first few sentences are on the page, I can generate ideas much more easily, and I experience what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1997) calls flow. In a state of flow, I lose myself in the joy of writing and forget about time and outside pressures.

flowing river

Flow is different than just enjoying an activity like binge watching a series on Netflix or eating a favorite food. You cannot engage in flow as a passive participant. Flow is experienced from the joy of actively producing (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997), and it is something that has been studied in education and writing, but also in sports such as archery, golf, and billiards (Gute & Gute, 2008). Athletes who sprint build muscle recovery ability and increase their resistance to fatigue (Girard et al., 2011); similarly, writers who engage frequently in short bursts of writing develop fluency and the ability to focus quickly on a writing task (Literacy Information and Communication System, n.d.). The flow states kicks in when the writer or athlete has formed the habits, knows what to do, and engages fully in act of writing itself.

So how do you get from the monolithic blank page to an enjoyable state where the writing you have planned becomes a natural expression rather than halting stumbles of a few words that you type and delete in fits of frustration? Although achieving a state of flow does require mindfulness and experiencing a challenge, researchers have found a positive correlation between a perception of encouraging feedback and the experience of flow. This indicates that the more people trust their ability to meet a challenge, the more likely their performances are to meet their expectations (Gute & Gute, 2008). Turning off your inner critic and writing boldly and fearlessly, giving yourself permission to make mistakes that you know you can deal with later, can help open the pathway to flow.

Many writers experience difficulties getting started on writing projects in isolation. Once more, science provides insight into why this may be true, as studies conducted on flow have found that social flow, or flow experiences created in a group setting, were rated as more enjoyable than solitary flow (Salanova et al., 2014; van den Hout et al., 2018; Walker, 2009).

crumpled writing paper

Student writers can apply this research in a practical way. Using in-person café writing groups and social media to create a sense of community in writing, without any judgment on the quality of the work, can be valuable techniques (Mewburn et al., 2014). This is where the social media challenge to “writing sprints” comes in.

In a writing sprint challenge, the goal of the activity is to write for a given block of time and report back only on the number of words produced. Comparing sprint writing to longer intensive boot camp or binge writing sessions,[1]  studies have shown that frequent sprint writing produces more in the long term (Friesen, 2014). In a sprint, writers announce challenges or personal goals on social media such as Twitter, Facebook, discussion boards, etc., and they can be set to any length of time. Some find the structure of “sets” such as the Pomodoro method[2] helpful, whereas others would rather sprint more spontaneously with their writing.

Whichever method you prefer, publicly throwing down the gauntlet in a space where other writers can bear witness to the challenge (in a private writing group, on a class discussion board, or just on a Walden University Facebook page) is a great way to create accountability to just start writing. Using social media to your advantage rather than as a distraction can be a great source of motivation. These challenges can help you produce more writing than you would working alone. So, here’s a challenge: try a writing sprint sometime this week. Set a timer for 10-30 minutes and keep writing until it goes off. Once you get started writing, (especially if you know others are engaged in writing as well), you might achieve the rewarding flow experience that leads to the successful completion of your writing project.

dog running


Cirillo, F. (n.d.). Pomodoro technique. https://francescocirillo.com/pages/pomodoro-technique

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997).  Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. HarperCollins.

Friesen, E. L. (2014). Structures, snacks, sprints, and socializing: Strategies to increase writing output for AT practitioners. Studies in Health Technology and Informatics, 217, 788-791.

Girard, O., Mendez-Villanueva, A., & Bishop, D. (2011). Repeated-sprint ability — Part I: Factors contributing to fatigue. Sports Medicine41(8), 673–694. https://doi-org./10.2165/11590550-000000000-00000

Gute, D., & Gute, G. (2008). Flow writing in the liberal arts core and across the disciplines: A vehicle for confronting and transforming academic disengagement. The Journal of General Education, 57(4), 191-222. https://doi.org/10.1353/jge.0.0026

Literacy Information and Communication System. (n.d.). Increase the amount of student writing. https://lincs.ed.gov/state-resources/federal-initiatives/teal/guide/studentwriting

Mewburn, I., Osbone, L., & Caldwell, G. (2014). Shut up & write!: Some surprising uses of cafés and crowds in doctoral writing. In C. Aitchison & C. Guerin (Eds.), Writing groups for doctoral education and beyond: Innovations in practice (pp. 218-232). Routledge.

Salanova, M., Rodriguez Sanchez, A. M., Schaufeli, W. B., Cifre, E. (2014). Flowing together: A longitudinal study of collective efficacy and collective flow among workgroups. The Journal of Psychology Interdisciplinary and Applied 148(4), 435-455. https://doi.org/10.1080/00223980.2013.806290

Van den Hout, J. J. J., Davis, O. C. & Weggeman, M. C. D. P. (2018). The conceptualization of team flow. The Journal of Psychology 152(6), 388-423. https://doi.org/10.1080/00223980.2018.1449729

Walker, C. (2009). Experiencing flow: Is doing it together better than doing it alone? The Journal of Positive Psychology, 5(1), 3-11. http://doi.org/10.1080/17439760903271116

[1] There has been some conflation of the term “writing sprint” with what is actually a “writing binge” where writers spent an intensive multiday period writing on a single topic.

[2] The Pomodoro method was pioneered by Francesco Cirillo (n.d.), where tasks are chunked into 25-minute blocks of time, with a short break allowed, and then another 25-minute block of time, followed by a short break, and this pattern continues until 4 of the 25-minute blocks have been completed, and a 20-to-30-minute break is allowed.

*The terrible, punny title of this post was crafted by the current project manager of the blog. Lauri should not be held responsible. 

Lauri Barnes
 is a Writing Instructor at Walden University, and has worked in online writing centers since 2014. She has over two decades of teaching experience and loves supporting writers through the writing process.  She is an aficionado of coffee, tea, mysteries, data, Star Wars, Doctor Who, all things nerdy and geeky, science, faith, kindness, and hope. She lives in the panhandle of Florida with her husband, daughter, two sons, and their cat.

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