On writing in short bursts

I am often asked by imaginary people how it is I managed to have gotten so much writing done over the years despite working full time and raising two children to their current heights.  And the answer is very simple: I am a binge writer.

This fantastic term, which I’m nearly positive I made up, describes my approach perfectly.  Given that my schedule does not allow me to get any significant creative writing done during the forty hour work week… or for the hour or two after I’ve gotten home due to dinner preparation… or for 3/4 of the weekend when errands are run, shopping is done, dishes and laundry are dealt with, and football is aired… I have trained myself to write complete works in very short bursts.

sprint, not marathon

All right, I wouldn’t say “trained.”  More like the schedule created the process rather than the process happening to fit the schedule.  But it works.

An example: the first draft of Immortal, a 97,000 word book, was finished in about four months.  That sounds fantastic, doesn’t it?  Except it really took longer than that, because you have to count the year or so before it when I wasn’t writing much of anything.

One of the advantages of binge writing is that the drafts I write tend to be second drafts.  That is to say, I don’t have the kind of time to throw a first draft up on the screen knowing it’s crap but that the next pass will clean it up.  I self-edit the crap out as I write, so that by the time I reach the end I’ve already edited it once.

(This also led me to think my initial drafts were awesome and perfect and pure.  If you are a writer, you’re very familiar with this mistake.)

Sudden free time

It took me a long time to fully appreciate binge writing, because until fairly recently I haven’t had much time to spare.  But now the kids are old enough to kill their own food and I’m finding myself with the kind of time that has me sitting around and asking, “why am I not writing anything at this moment?”  And if you are a writer you know that the next thought is, “oh my god, maybe I have nothing left to say!”

But I have plenty to say.  It just needs to come out all at once.  So rather than force the issue I’m sitting back and waiting for that to happen.

Should be any day now.

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  1. Jaleta Clegg on June 24, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    I love this post! This so describes me, except I have a lot more children. I wrote an entire 170,000 word novel in less than a week once. I’d been plotting it for over a year. It all came out at once.

    I’m so glad I’m not alone…

    • genedoucette on June 24, 2010 at 2:05 pm

      170,000 words in a week is INSANE.

      And thanks. I’m expecting to see “binge writing” become a thing.

      • Jaleta Clegg on June 24, 2010 at 2:59 pm

        It was an insane week. I did nothing but write about 20 hours a day. The book had been bothering me for a long time. It’s the final volume in my series.

        Binge writing works very well for those of us without leisure time or household help.

  2. Tee on June 24, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    I am familiar with binge writing. I grab any available moment (even when my muse is giving me the finger and not around) to write, at least, something. Of course, with three girls, (ages 13-7), a full time job and a very handy hubby, any extended writing time generally means I’m thriving on about 5-6 hours of sleep a night. I also embrace the beauty that is the power nap, giving myself a little extra boost on the weekends.

    However, like you, I edit as I write. This could be seen as one of those good/bad habits. Good, because I monitor every word. Bad, because I can obsess on certain paragraphs, hindering myself from actually finishing the book. It’s just the way of things for me, unfortunately.

    Toni Morrison said she wrote when her children were asleep and on weekends. Not a bad model to learn from, IMHO.

    • genedoucette on June 24, 2010 at 1:43 pm

      To editing while writing, I’ve gotten really good at it, but it can be a hindrance because if I know I’ve started to drift off of the path and write junk, I have to go back and course-correct before continuing. This leads to many slow-downs.

      • Tee on June 24, 2010 at 1:48 pm

        Oh, well, Jedi Master, do please share your wisdom on not getting off track. LOL, seriously, I’d appreciate it. 🙂

        • genedoucette on June 24, 2010 at 2:04 pm

          Hah. Usually when I stop it’s because I’m either too tired or I can’t figure out what comes next. If it’s the latter, it’s because somewhere a page or two earlier, I went in the wrong direction. So I go back to the last time I felt good about what I was writing, and delete everything that came after.

  3. stickynotestories on June 25, 2010 at 11:12 am

    I’m a binge writer too – when I try to make myself set a schedule for my writing I tend to get so worked up about the fact that I should be writing, that I either write crap or don’t write at all. When I give myself permission not to write, though, I get some idea that just sings and end up writing and writing and writing until it is out.

    • genedoucette on June 25, 2010 at 11:28 am

      I sometimes have to eliminate all possible other things I could be doing. I’ve been known to take days off from work when I know nobody else will be home so i can just sit around with nothing else to do.

  4. Tao Joannes on June 29, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    Writing about Twitter!

    You have fully embraced the dark side. We will be sending the doctor around to install your implant shortly.

    I put together some additional twitter info a while ago for folks.

    What is Twitter and Why Should I Care?
    http://www.taojoannes.com/2010/03/what-is-twitter-and-why-should-i-care.html

  5. Tao Joannes on June 29, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    Okay, I don’t know how I did that, but that comment was suppossed to be on your post about twitter, obviously.

    As far as binge writing goes, definitely

    I have to wait till I’ve got the time, which is either when the planets align or I choose to let the three year old run amok for a little while, then HOPE I’m in the right headspace to go off to fantasy land.

    I wrote my longest complete work, to date, in a two-day binge, two sessions, longhand, then typed it in in another session.

    That was before I hooked up with a readymade family, though. And before I got a dog.

    Now it’s just 300-500 words per sitting, usually interruppted several times with “Daddy need kool-aid” “Daddy watch barney” and “Bark bark whine (you need to let me out before I poop on the couch)”

    • genedoucette on June 29, 2010 at 1:24 pm

      S’okay, I’ve been seeing that. The link to comment is at the top of the page blog entry instead of the bottom, and I think that’s screwing people up.

  6. mariminiatt on September 14, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    Found this thanks to your comment on my post at http://t.co/jxfCLbr
    I do have a set schedule, thanks to an 45 minute lunch at work, and an hour to wait for the bus. But getting everything down in that short time period can be a challenge.
    I wonder if the time issue is the real reason why some of us just write and others can spend months planning out their book?

    • genedoucette on September 14, 2010 at 8:38 pm

      I know my approach originated with a lack of free time. I also have trouble outlining because I don’t like what i come up with when I plot that way. It’s much more interesting when I’m as surprised as anyone by what happens next.

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