Short writing periods regularly don’t work for everybody.
@jovanevery thank god. Every time I see someone tweet that I think why doesn’t it work for me. I write 6 hours straight. Can’t do short.
— M.M. (@ProfessMoravec) March 7, 2013
The thing is, I also see a lot of advice that refers to almost any longer writing block as “binge writing”. If you are more like these people, do not despair.
You may not be a binge writer
The term “binge writing” comes from Robert Boice. He has done studies of tenure-track academics to determine optimal work patterns, especially when it comes to writing. His work is fascinating and definitely worth a read.
Boice uses the term “binge writing” to describe a pattern that he compares to the cycle that those with bipolar disorder experience (though he is very clear that this is NOT a symptom of a mental illness, but a milder version of a similar pattern).
In order to be “binge” writing, your long period of writing would have some mildly manic qualities to it and result in a need for recovery time afterwards. This passage by Lisa Munro gives a flavour of what that looks like:
Yes, I wrote regularly, but only when forced to crank out pages because of non-negotiable deadlines and serious feelings of guilt and shame. To stave off panic, I wrote in frantic binges that left me exhausted. And then I wouldn’t write again for days or weeks because I told myself that I needed to “take some time off” to recover.
In other words, if your long writing periods are followed by an inability to write, you might have a problem. Otherwise, you need not worry.
The key question is: Are you writing?
If you have a process that works for you, then you don’t need to go out looking for other better processes.
Your writing process doesn’t work if:
- you aren’t getting anything written and submitted
- you are frequently anxious about writing
- you are exhausted, anxious and incapable of coherent thought after you’ve been writing
- you can’t write the type of thing you need to write (e.g. works for articles but not for a monograph)
Writing will probably still be difficult.
You will need strategies to overcome inertia and get into flow. You will struggle with particular sections. You will need to revise what you write. Probably several times. It will take longer than you think. Some days you will write a lot. Other days it will feel like pouring molasses on a cold day.
Preventing the binge
If you have a tendency to binge, try experimenting to make your practice more sustainable.
- Take breaks. Experiment to figure out the best time between breaks.
- Stop in the middle. Boice suggests this and I like it. It means you can pick up where you left off next time.
- Make a list when you stop: If were to keep writing now, what would I do next? Use your list to get started next time.
Also, notice your overall pattern. Are you binging the way a starving person would eat? Do you think if you don’t keep writing now, you don’t know when you’ll get another chance?
If that’s your issue, then look at your calendar and book an appointment with yourself to write in the next few days or weeks. Knowing that you will have another meal, may enable you to eat a smaller portion today.
Moving beyond “binge” vs “snack” writing by Katherine Firth
Would you benefit from some support?
I help people find a writing practice that works for them, stick with it, and adapt it as needed.
The 15 minute/day Academic Writing Challenge helps you experiment with the smallest possible amount of writing to get started and/or to see what you can do in that time.
A Meeting With Your Writing is to your writing practice what going to a yoga (or other fitness) class is to your movement practice: a synchronous meeting that gives you a structure to actually write. Come once a week or up to 3 times a week. 2 hour meeting guarantees 90 minutes of writing time.
This post was edited April 12, 2016. Related posts added July 6, 2017.