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Opinion: Why Sometimes It’s Good to Be an Irregular Writer

Head and shoulders shot of Debbie

Debbie Young lets the binge-writing genie out of the bottle (Photo: Angela Fitch Photography)

Many writing coaches counsel writing a set amount every day, preferably at the same time, and even in the same place, to programme oneself into good productivity habits. English indie author Debbie Young describes how she flouted that advice and surprised herself with her own new-found productivity with her new all-or-nothing binge writing routine.

 

 

Plenty of bestselling authors point to their own regular work pattern to account for their success, from Jeffrey Archer (four two-hour stints per day – phew!) to Graeme Greene (a low word count of just 500, but consistently adhered to). Simple arithmetic provides a compelling argument for such regularity.

365 days x 500 words = 182,500 words = 2 novels

500 words a day – that doesn’t sound so hard, does it?

From 0 to 60K in a Month

photo of debbie at the start of a long footpath

It’s a long and winding road from short stories to novels (Photo: Angela Fitch Photography)

Before I started writing novels, I wrote short stories, most of them no longer than the articles and features I’d written previously as a journalist. Used to polishing short word counts, it was a huge change for me to fill a bigger canvas. I took the NaNoWriMo route, aiming at 2,000 words a day, till the first draft of the novel was done. This well-trodden path seemed a sensible choice.

But a short and minor hospital surgery that left me resting in bed for a couple of weeks unleashed a whole new writing me. I discovered that when the rest of life didn’t get in the way, I could just keep going. In fact, I not only could, but I longed to.

Before long I was writing most of my waking hours, and between end of November and the middle of February, I wrote the first draft of not one but two novels, the second and third in my new Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, Trick or Murder and Murder in the Manger.

Are Writing Rules Made to Be Broken?

I felt like a schoolgirl disobeying the rules, although I also took heart from the role model of Anita Brookner, a university professor who only wrote fiction during her summer vacation – but then churned out a whole novel, to a very high standard. Her Hotel Du Lac won the Booker Prize in 1984.

Ironically, by mid-February, my health had returned and I’d got over my op and the anaesthetic, but I was completely exhausted. The ten-week writing binge had sucked me dry.

However, I felt as if I’d discovered magical powers. I’d let the binge-writing genie out of the bottle.

Writing non-stop till I’d drained the creative well felt so much more natural and productive than the scientifically measured and monitored x words per day. I was then so exhausted mentally that I felt I had no choice but to take a complete break for about six weeks before I sat down to edit the first of those manuscripts, which I’m now just about finished two months later. So it’s been an all-or-nothing process, but it’s got me across the finishing line. It’s worked.

Am I a lone rebel against the tried-and-trusted regular writing method? I put the question to the ALLi hive and was gratified to have a flurry of positive responses from people who shared my approach. Their endorsement has given me the reassurance I needed to continue to follow my writing instincts, and as soon as I’ve finished editing these first drafts, I’ll be putting my head down to go round again for book four. Seconds out…

Thoughts from Other ALLi Authors Who Love Binge Writing

  • My entire life is naturally that all or nothing way too. So often have I tried to learn balance but the nearest I ever got was being married to a Libra. – Sarah Banham
  • I can go six months without writing a word. Then I’ll bang out a complete first draft in two months. I think I might use the down time to let ideas percolate. And when they’re all hot at once, they bubble over! – Jessica Bell
  • I’ve generally written in November and then virtually nothing the rest of the year. Not sure I should be emulated. most of the rest of the year I spend working out in my head the plan to the novel. That said I swore I’d never write another fiction book but have had a great idea for another series… – Tim Lewis
  • I’m prone to bursts of productivity but I do try for regular writing sprints. I think when the muse strikes, she strikes hard…it’s difficult to find a happy medium between visits.  – Rebecca Lang 
  • I have bad dreams if I don’t write for a while, (more than two weeks) so it’s therapy for me. – Deb McEwan  (USA – Alaska)
  • When I’m actually writing, I can’t take too long a break because I lose the picture of the book in my head … i.e. I lose focus and forget stuff and have to be constantly re-reading to refresh my memory. Otherwise, it’s like taking over the writing of someone else’s book. – Keith Dixon 
  • My ‘day’ job often gobbles up huge amounts of time and creative energy, so I find myself binge writing whenever I can fit it in. – Henry Hyde 
  • I write when I feel like it, or feel compelled to write and it works for me. To those who would advise me, thank you. – Rory Graham
  • I’m all-consuming or nothing type writer, but I also write 100-200 words here and there in snatched moments in odd and surprising places. – Thomas Shepherd
  • I take a year out for research when writing one of my historical novels and I think that time for the story to simmer, for the research to settle into my brain, is part of how I write. In my ‘year off” my brain is working on the book subconsciously while I prioritise one of my other lives – I’m a photographer – and then when I start writing the book, I do a bit most days with simmering in between. I like simmering. – Jean Gill, France

OVER TO YOU With summer holidays nearly upon us in the northern hemisphere at least, might you take time out to have a go at binge writing? Are you already a fan? Has binge writing changed the way you write, for better o worse? We’d love to know!

Binge #writing - a welcome antidote to x words every day? @DebbieYoungBN confesses Click To Tweet

OTHER USEFUL POSTS ABOUT WRITING PRODUCTIVITY  FROM THE ALLi ARCHIVE

How To Use NaNoWriMo To Structure Your Fiction-writing Business: Grant Faulkner

Productivity for Authors – How to Write and Publish Often And Well: Mark McGuinness

Writing: How To Use the Snowflake Technique to Write A Novel

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8 Responses to Opinion: Why Sometimes It’s Good to Be an Irregular Writer

  1. Jude July 5, 2017 at 2:23 pm #

    Having the freedom to write every day – same time, same place, is surely a luxury that few writers possess – most of us also have to earn money other ways – as well as accommodate all the other demands of life. Surely no one system suits all- and whatever works..,, well, it works!

  2. K.S. Trenten June 22, 2017 at 5:42 pm #

    I admit, I find the ritual of writing every day gets me in the habit and puts my closer to my goals. I tend to achieve my goals more when I do this. At the same time, there are moments when I binge write. The story catches me up with all of its force and I can’t stop. 🙂 Usually, it’s a feeling of light headedness and a realization that half the day is gone which stops me. My stomach growls an angry warning, letting me know I’d better eat or I’ll be sorry. 🙂 I’ve never regretted my binges, though. They’re among the most satisfying indulgences I’ve ever given into.

  3. Nina del Arce June 21, 2017 at 10:24 am #

    Yep, this is what I do too—and I’ve also had some weird feelings of guilt over it, because it’s not what some people preach that you’re ‘supposed’ to do. But now that I’m starting to embrace it more, I’m far happier about things. Abolish the so-called rules, I say! 😉

  4. Kassandra Lamb June 20, 2017 at 6:48 pm #

    I’m more a binge writer when the words are flowing well, but when my muse is less cooperative, I apply the so many words a day method to try to keep going.

    One summer, I went to our summer cottage early without my husband to do a home-improvement project there. I got the project done with a week to spare before he arrived. I had a book already simmering in my head and I wrote the first draft (85K) in that one week. Didn’t do much else but eat and sleep though.

  5. Pauline Baird Jones June 20, 2017 at 12:00 am #

    I can get burned out by binge (or intensive) writing, but I also have to plan my writing into my life because it can get really complicated. If I don’t mark out months for binge writing, then I end up not writing at all. So yeah, binge writer here, too.

  6. Jeanne Felfe June 19, 2017 at 9:38 pm #

    I’ve tried it both ways and bursts work best for me, at least so far. I try to write at least one short story a month, mostly for the writing contests conducted by my local writers’ guild. Often I don’t start until the week it’s due and the story comes to me in a whoosh. As I sit here now, my brain is waiting for that whoosh for the June contest. Some of my highest winners have come in just such a way.

    As for my novels, I’m thinking it’s time for an all out assault of binge writing.

  7. Jo VanEvery June 19, 2017 at 8:31 pm #

    Interesting. And I think this word “binge” gets used in pretty loose and unhelpful ways. A friend of mine has recently self-published a non-fiction book that might describe how you (and others write). She talks about some people being “intensive”: http://yourenottoomuch.com

    It seems to me that an intensive burst to draft, followed by a good break, and coming back with fresh eyes to revise has a lot to recommend it.

  8. Sarah Banham June 19, 2017 at 8:25 pm #

    Great stuff, Debbie. Good to know I’m not alone with my binge traits.

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