The Method of Book Sprints – or How to Create a Book in Three Days

Note: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong, missing points, forgetting key information.

Digital Methods Winterschool, day 2: Adam Hyde (via Video), Michael Dieter and David Berry (most of the arguments here stem from his slides) introduce us to the method of book sprint. A book sprint is a time-boxed short duration writing process usually in the order of three to five days. The aim is to produce a complete publication-ready manuscript. A book sprint has always two types of spaces: (1) A shared writing/talking area around a table and (2) quiet working space for indiviudal reading/writing/reflection. Key is an early “buy-in” from the participants: They all need to agree on the outline that is developed on the first day (and not beforehand).

The facilitator and the stages of a book sprint

A facilitator, who should not be part of the content creation, is the trouble-shooter and protects the process and participants from distraction. The facilitator should try to elicit knowledge and involvement, not to impose or control peoples’ work.

The writing room is carefully controlled by the facilitator. This person is required to mediate discussions, enforce the space rules, set ground-rules and deal with disruption from internal/external sources. The facilitator protects the Book sprint team from the outside world. Large amounts of free drinks and snacks should be available in the room to keep people there, rather than seeing them wandering off. Just before the writing starts, one external person could do an ignite talk.

A book sprint consists of the following stages:

  1. Concept mapping: development of themes, concepts, ideas, developing ownership (putting it on walls like at Barcamps)
  2. Structuring: creating chapter headings, dividing the work, scoping the book (into BookType)
  3. Writing: distributing sections/chapters, writing and discussion (but mostly writing) (into BookType).
  4. Composition phase: iterative proxess of re-structuring, checking, discussion, copyediting, proofreading (print out everything and lay it out on the floor)
  5. Printing

The software that is used for book sprints is called BookType. People who do not have a long experience with collaboration might have problems with working on book sprints. For instance, people from academia can “freeze”. Then it is the task of the facilitator to “unfreeze” them.

Reflections on book sprints and the academia

The next day, David Berry brought up different questions that come with the method of a book sprint. Not only that that: He was reflecting how academia was changing with and through the Internet, classifying booksprints as collateral phenomenon. Research is becoming computational, in its practices, its materiality and its processes, he said. Big data, visualisation, digital methods are slowly but steadily coming to social sciences and the humanities. This changes the whole process of research: It becomes framed and formatted in computational categories. MOOCs and other online courses, another collateral phenomenon, seem to hollow out the “squeezed middle” universities.

Due to its focus on rapid short-form writing, book sprints are easily identified as part of this trend described above: A book sprint adheres to principles like: A sense of stability, a sense of security (no constant outside interruptions), a sense of continuity (the process is clear with fixed goals), a sense of equity (no-one should be suspicious that others are not equally participatiing). A book sprint is a shared computational-object, held together by care for the writing. This gathering that is facilitated by the book sprint as an event is innovative in keeping this spirit of (academic) care alive.