Don’t Write Every Day: The Benefits of Binge Writing

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BingeWritinghow toby Garrett Calcaterra

1. I Don’t Write Every Day

The writing advice you most often hear is something to the effect of, “If you want to be a successful author, you need to write every day.”

I don’t.

I mean, I work as a freelance writer and editor, so yeah, I write something every day, but not my own creative work. Sometimes I’ll go as long as a couple of weeks, maybe even a month, without writing anything that’s my own.

2. When I Do Write, I Binge

The longest writing session I’ve ever had was 27 hours, but that was back when I was a good deal younger.

My comfort zone is the 7–10 hour writing session. If I see the light at the end of the tunnel, I’ll push myself into the 12–15 hour zone. I don’t have anything against shorter writing sessions, but I get so much more done in a long session, and the writing becomes exponentially more fluid.

After the 3-hour mark, there’s no more vacillation and uncertainty about whether the voice and style is consistent. After the 3-hour mark, you’re writing on instinct, completely immersed in the narrative. Why would you want to stop when things are finally going so well?

3. When I’m Bingeing, I Neglect All Other Tasks (And Don’t Feel Bad)

I’m usually a pretty observant, attentive person. That all goes out the window when I’m writing. Don’t try to talk to me. Don’t bother me. I might say, “I’ll be right there, honey,” when it’s time to break for dinner, and I do mean it in the moment, but a second later, I’m back into the story. I’m lucky because I have a partner who understands my writing habits and leaves me to my own devices when I’m like this.

Also, I make a habit of ensuring any vital responsibilities are handled before a binge, hence item #1 and why I don’t write every day. If you’re going to binge, you have to make sure your loved ones are forewarned and the electricity isn’t going to get turned off because you didn’t pay the bills.

4. Buzzed Writing is Inspired Writing

I like to drink when I write. Cliché, right?

My internal editor/critic is as loud as any writer’s, telling me this bit of internal viewpoint is shallow or that line of dialogue is trite, so I like to drink that critic under the table. Okay, not under the table. I can’t actually write if I get blitzed. Instead, I curate a comfortable buzz to loosen me up and make my writing sessions more enjoyable.

My secret to sustaining that happy-spot for a long writing session is sticking with beer, having a bottle of water at hand to stay hydrated, and having lots of snacks handy.

Beer and liquor isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, I know. The important thing is to put yourself in a good headspace so you’re enjoying the moment and cutting yourself some slack as a writer. Maybe that’s with booze, or maybe it’s some groovy music, flickering candlelight and incense. Booze certainly doesn’t hurt, though.

5. Binge Writing is Productive

I’ve had tons of people tell me my writing habits aren’t the correct way to go about it, or that they’re not sustainable, but you know what? It works for me.

In my most recent binge session, I knocked out the entire first draft for a 10k word short story.

I wrote my newest novel, Souldrifter, in less than a year. Not only wrote it, but went through multiple revisions based on feedback from beta readers, my agent, and the acquisitions editor, and got the final draft to my publisher in less than a year. Maybe not Stephen-King-productive, but not bad.

I think if more writers tried out binge writing, they’d secretly start to like it, become more productive, and not be so tough on themselves about not writing every day.

6. Binge Writing Isn’t Just for Genre Writers

Some writers like to poo-poo my productivity and write it off because I primarily write sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. Don’t be fooled.

Writing a high-concept, multi-viewpoint novel with smooth-flowing prose takes every bit as much mental energy and attention as writing lurid, stylized prose. I know. I write literary fiction, too. If you think genre fiction doesn’t require the same degree of craft and artistry, you’re wrong. If you think I’m wrong, make an honest effort to write a good genre fiction story and see if you feel the same afterward.

If anything, binge sessions work better with literary fiction because literary fiction is so often voice-driven.

7. Binge Writing Makes Novel Writing Tough

Call it a male thing, an inability to multi-task, if you like, but I like to think of it as being efficient and always focus on one project at a time. This means when I’m working on a freelance project, I’m pretty consumed by that project. When I’m working on my own projects, same deal.

This works nicely for short stories, where I can knock out a first draft in one or two binges. It’s not so simple for novels. Obviously, I can’t write an entire novel in one binge session. No one can. When I’m working on a novel, I have to schedule regular binge sessions—at least one a week—and then when I get close to finishing, you won’t see or hear from me for a week or more.

To be a binge novelist, you need a strong work ethic, commitment, and you have to make the time for it, same as an every-day-writer novelist.

8. I Take Breaks

Binge writing is definitely draining, so I give myself license to take breaks and do other creative stuff.

I play music in a band, garden in the backyard, tinker around in the garage and make stuff, and sometimes take on a random hobby. A few years ago, it was film photography. At the moment, it’s woodworking.

And, oh yeah, I go out and do real life stuff. My wife and I go have fun, even if we can’t afford to travel much. I hang out with other writers and creative people. Real life stuff is vital for writers to refuel creatively, and real life experience pushes us to become more knowledgeable and empathetic writers.

Don’t feel bad about taking a hiatus. The bigger the project you finish, the bigger the hiatus you earned.

9. The Moral of the Story

I’m not certain there is one. I don’t know that binge writing would work for most people, so I’m not recommending it like some sort of get-fit-quick diet scheme.

It works for me, though, so when I hear writing advice to the contrary, I politely ignore it.

The moral, if there is any, is writers shouldn’t slavishly follow every bit of writing advice they hear. We each have to do whatever it takes to find that happy medium between creativity and productivity. If you’ve found your process, cool.

On the other hand, if you struggle to write every day, or if you beat yourself up because you can’t finish a story by your self-imposed deadline, then go buy a twelve pack and write for ten hours straight to see what happens.

Read Bookfox’s interview with Garrett Calcaterra, with a hearty discussion of the benefits and drawbacks of e-books and e-publishing.

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  1. I’m a drink tea and light incense kind of writer. Can’t remember the last time I drank and wrote. But your way sounds so compelling; maybe I should try it.

    1. Yeah, I’m in support of trying anything as a writer. You never know what will work out for you…

  2. This is great advice. I haven’t binge written anything in a long time. It sure beats the bird by bird approach. Binge writing is the time when I have felt the most creative.