In general, I’d never advise a writing binge. Like most lifestyles, a writing life is built gradually, a day at a time. When my students ask me about whether they should be writing or doing something else, I will usually tell them that the answer is both, even if only a little bit. What makes a writer is writing, I tell them. Writers write.
And while I am generally a fan of the incremental, the tortoise-like slow and steady, it’s also the case that the controlled binge can have its purpose. In a workshop about writing productivity led by Helen Sword (http://www.helensword.com/), I recall Professor Sword discussing the judicious balance writers might achieve between “snack” and “binge” writing.
So, while the advice that I and others offer here—that a lot can be done in incremental, daily practice (30 minutes of writing; 10 sun salutations; a 20 minute run; 15 minutes with an artist’s journal)—that kind of incremental work can sometimes leave the writer/artist/creator with a hunger for a more sustained period of work. As a new mom, for example, the idea of doing anything for more than 30 minutes at a time seems an unimaginable luxury.
On the other hands, sometimes there are creative tasks that are either so daunting or so tedious that we cannot bear to approach them unless we know that they will be quarantined in our schedule, like some nasty virus, limited in its capacity to spread.
In either case, the controlled binge can be useful. This month, I’ll be doing two versions of the controlled binge.
First, I’m headed to a conference this month. In addition to attending interesting sessions and meeting up with old friends, I’ll use this special time in which I am freed from the little but time-consuming tasks of daily life (student appointments, laundry, cooking dinner, committee meetings, dog walking, etc.) to have some sustained writing time. I love going to airports early for this reason—a good airport bar or coffee shop, followed by time in the suspended world of the airplane, can be a mini writing retreat. A place and a time to put away all but the pages at hand. For me, I’m hoping to make the revision of a particularly ornery article the focus of my off hours during the conference. It’ll be what I’m mulling over on my runs, what you’ll see me annotating over breakfast, and so on.
On the other hand, I’ll also be working on a scary, big task during a longer, but still controlled period. It’s currently NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. And while I’m not writing my great unsung novelistic work, I’m using the inspiration provided by all the would-be novelists at work this month to launch my own, slight less-sexy challenge NoBoProMo: November Book Proposal Month.
I find writing book proposals horrible—simultaneously boring and hard, the worst of both worlds! And yet the documents are crucial, for practical reasons (presses need to see them) and for writerly purposes (they are super-clarifying). So, I am giving myself both the permission slip and the assignment to devote (only) November to banging out a rough draft of my proposal. It’s a task of every day writing I’ve set for myself, but it’s limited. Given that I hate this particular genre of writing, it’s nice to know there’s an end date—the quarantined binge makes the writing possible.
And that’s it—back to work!