Sprint Writing . . . or how inserting a placeholder can improve your daily word count

Adron J. Smitley
5 min readMay 4, 2024


First off, let’s get this out of the way: if you are in any way a serious writer, whether plotter or pantser, then you must have a minimum daily word count goal.
Every writer is different, so discover what minimum daily word count goal works for you then stick to it. Also, don’t pick something low-bar and lazy like a measly 100 words. Not only are you doing yourself a disservice but you are not pushing yourself as you should be doing.
Writing is actual work, and I often liken having a minimum daily word count goal to an indie movie maker having a limited budget. Hollywood blockbusters that have hundreds of millions of moolah to spend during filming aren’t as constrained by their bountiful budgets and this doesn’t force them to think outside the box, but some of the best movies are those with a vastly limited budget that forces the film maker’s creativity into an unexpected area of new wonder, and having a minimum daily word count goal will help you to think outside of the box while writing.
As well, with time, you should try to increase your minimum daily word count goal, such as bumping it up by 50 or 100 words every now and again, though obviously this isn’t an infinite application otherwise writers such as Stephen King would by now have an impossible minimum daily word count goal to achieve in the hundreds of thousands. Stevie-boi, BTW, has disclosed in an interview that he targets 2,000 words to write on a daily basis.
Point being: pace yourself, but also push yourself.
This is where I liken writing to lifting weights: no one is going to show up and lift the weights for you, just as no one is going to show up and write your book for you. You have to push yourself to improve yourself. And if you don’t then you only have yourself to blame.
Eventually, after years of daily writing, you will reach a point where you steady off into a comfortable though respectable number as your minimum daily word count goal.
My minimum daily word count goal is 1,000; if I can get at least 1,000 words per day then I am a happy camper.
But I always surpass this 1,000 word benchmark because my average daily word count is 5,000. I don’t always get those 5,000 words, mind, but when I do it’s a pleasure beyond orgasmic, and sometimes I surpass even that into the 10,000+ territory when I’m on a hot streak of writing and have the time to pursue it through.
Again, every writer is different. Some of us have all day to write while others only have an hour or two per day at most. I typically write anywhere from two to six hours per day, depending on what life sends my way. You may vary.
And by 5,000 (or 1,000) I don’t mean the same word repeated over and over, I mean usable words that you honestly believe (at least at the time of writing them) are going to hopefully make it into your final draft if they survive your meticulous editing after you finish the first draft.
A great way to ensure you always achieve your minimum daily word count goal is to use a placeholder . . . which means something you insert into your writing that you are going to return to later so you don’t slow yourself down in the moment.
In journalism and printing, TK is an abbreviation for “to come” which indicates where additional material will be added to a manuscript before publication. It is used as a placeholder in article drafts to indicate missing information. TK is an intentional misspelling of “TC” to avoid confusion with final copy.
I prefer to use “???” as my placeholder. Don’t ask me why, I just do. And I’ve done this for years before ever even learning of the TK placeholder rule so I keep to it as my trusty go-to placeholder.
And because I use Word (I’ll never understand why writers use expensive writing programs when Word is cheap and simple), all I have to do is use its easy search function for “???” and it takes me right to where I need to be when I go back later to add the necessary description or whatever else is required.
For example, while you’re writing and you come to a part where you know you’re going to spend a few paragraphs describing, say, the physical outside of a haunted mansion your detective protagonist and Scooby crew just drove up to but you’re unsure of exactly how you want to describe its appearance other than spooky, as well you’re on a hot writing streak, instead of slowing down and spending the next twenty minutes pining over the haunted mansion’s perfect description, just type “???: spooky mansion description” as its own paragraph then move on while knowing you will return to it later when you have the time to actually spend conveying said spooky description with much more detail and appropriate creative flair.
Same with characters . . . “???: tall waiter with a lisp” or “???: short, pudgy banker who sweats a lot” or “???: mangy mutt tied to a tree that barks nonstop”.
I’ve even used this technique that keeps the creative ball rolling to placeholder entire scenes, and some writers also use it for entire chapters, though I don’t recommend the latter because then you risk setting yourself up for gaping plot holes you might have no idea how to plug later because you’ve pantsed yourself into a corner you don’t know how to plot yourself out of.
Inserting TK: (or ???:) is a great technique to keep you writing and ensure you not only hit your minimum daily word count goal but exceed it. Pair it with my #1 rule of writing productivity (Write first, edit last) and you’ll speed up your writing in no time flat while achieving and increasing your minimum daily word count goal.
Sprint writing is fantastic when you are working on getting that pesky first draft done. You can take all the time in the world afterwards rewriting and editing it, but you can’t rewrite or edit a first draft that doesn’t exist.
So try your hand at using a placeholder (whether TK: or ???: or your own unique version) and see how much more productive it helps you become while sprint writing that first draft on the daily.
Good luck!


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Adron J. Smitley

Blog for writers on everything plot, character, and story structure architecture at: adronjsmitley.blogspot.com