Word wars, or word sprints, are contests in which the participants “war”, or “sprint”, to get the most words written in a short period of time. For the past week, I have been participating in several word wars per day with different friends, and they have paid off.
The purposes of word wars are varied. Some people compete against the other participants to get the highest word score– others simply compete against themselves. However, the power of word wars are not in the competition, but in the format.
In a word war, you’re essentially forcing yourself to write without distractions. You’re setting aside 15 or 30 minutes to write as much as you can, and after that you’re free to check your email and comment on blogs. Instead of having an hour of mixed work, where you write a sentence, then check Facebook, you are instead forcing yourself to wait on Facebook until after the time period has ended.
Not only that, but when you word war “against” someone, you have the opportunity to chat about your novels, boast about your wordcounts, and get into meaningless conversations between wars. That sort of camaraderie isn’t found in solo writing.
Word wars excel in getting you back into the flow of your novel and past writer’s block because they force you to write. You can’t just sit there, tapping the keyboard, waiting for the character to say the right thing– you either write or you tell all your friends you quit because you couldn’t remember synonyms for “perspicuity”.
However, word wars have drawbacks. Since you’re forcing yourself to write fast, writing whatever comes into your head is common. Unfortunately, things like that tend to be sarcastic statements about the main character’s hair, or mythologies that explain why penguins are monochromatic. Instead of being relevant to the plot, some of what comes out is complete dribble. Things like that tend to cast a pall over word warring– who wants to write hundreds of useless words?
But they aren’t useless. What’s the point of deleting everything but spectacular words? Word wars are for first drafts, not final polishes. And what are first drafts for but to put down the basic plot as well as you can? It doesn’t matter if there’s an essay about metaphysics in there. When you go through a macro-edit, you’ll delete everything that doesn’t really matter. The first draft isn’t the final one.
The Office of Letters and Light knows that the hardest part about writing a novel is getting the original words down on paper. That’s why they created NaNoWriMo as a place to abandon all else in pursuit of a completed novel. And what is NaNoWriMo but a month-long word war? The point isn’t to write 50,000 good words– the point is to write. No one is ashamed of a trashy first draft. In fact, most participants boast of how silly their novels are. Quantity is important, not quality.
Of course, that isn’t to say you should ignore the words you’re writing during word wars. It’s always good to be aware of what you’re writing. There’s no shame, however, in being redundant, using the same words to describe two different actions a sentence apart, and writing silly arguments between your characters that really shouldn’t happen. All that’s important is you get the words down, as irrelevant as they might seem.
That isn’t to say that you should write anything you want. It’s always good to stay focused on your story and characters. But taking a few paragraphs to describe a blue car is okay.
Trying to write as quickly as you can is no bad thing. Crime writer Michael Connelly said it well:
I think there’s a general misconception that anything written quickly lacks quality, and I don’t believe that.
Just because you’re writing them quickly doesn’t mean your words are inferior. The only thing that will keep you from writing quickly is worrying if your words are up to snuff. Truth is, they probably aren’t– but they don’t need to be.
Word wars can be matters of pride, or they can be matters of bettering oneself. As with NaNoWriMo, there is often no distinction between winners and losers. The purpose of a word war is to write, and if you’ve managed that, you’ve won.
Word wars are excellent resources, as long as you aren’t worrying that they aren’t helping you, or that someone else is beating you. Word wars cannot be bad for you unless you decide they’re bad– so try a few, and see what you can do.