coffee-1276778_1280Julia Cameron advocates “morning pages.” Three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. Every morning. The Artist’s Way.

Natalie Goldberg recommends writing daily for at least twenty minutes. Free the writer within. Keep your hand moving, lose control, and don’t think.  Writing Down the Bones.

Stephen King prescribes the writing routine of butt-in-chair habitually. Set writing goals and write 500, or 1,000, or 2000 words a day. Stephen King: On Writing.

Anne Lamott suggests you write whether you feel like it or not, even when you think the writing isn’t any good. When Anne Lamott’s brother had a report on birds due the next day which he’d had a month to prepare without having written a word, he became immobilized by the task at hand. Their father offered the sage writing advice: Bird by Bird.

What if you can’t make time to write every day? What if those morning pages really are nothing but navel gazing and lead nowhere? Does the daily discipline demanded by writing gurus make you feel like a failure as a writer? Does making a “job” of writing take all the joy out of the creative writing experience?

manworkHistorical fiction author Tracy Chevalier described her writing practice in a recent essay for The Guardian. “Part of me wishes it were easy to describe my typical writing day. I have heard about them, those smug productive hours when a writer – usually male, it has to be said – sits down each day at 9 am with an espresso, writes till 1, makes bouillabaisse, writes from 2 till 5, plays tennis, and after supper sits with a glass of single malt whisky reading over what he’s written that day. That is a scenario I both crave and detest. It will never be that controlled and disciplined for me.” She describes her advanced procrastination techniques, the thrills of doing research, and the necessity of blocking out large chunks of time when life is boring and she has a clear run of days without distraction to write. It’s refreshing to hear an author disclose there are other effective methods of writing.

True confession. I’m a binge-and-purge writer. I get intermittent and irresistible cravings to write. Often triggered by consuming high-quality literature, extended periods of research, or emotional arousal. Periods of compulsive prose production characterized by an obsession with literary craft. An excessive or uncontrolled indulgence, a bender, a jag, a spree, an orgy. I purge the feelings, memories, facts, images, dialogue, scenes, and story and get it out of my head and onto the page. A cathartic release. An evacuation, ejaculation, expulsion, ejection. The Vomit Draft.

notes-514998_1280Anne Lamott tells writers to give themselves permission to write a “sh*tty” first draft. Avoid editing until you have written the first full version of their manuscript. Incrementally. Day by day.

The vomit draft is a bit more abrupt, forceful, and immediate in delivery. The result is pretty much the same. It’s not always pretty, but you can work with it. Then the process of revising, editing, and rewriting can begin.

Getting the story out of your head and onto the empty page is a magical process and it’s more important to know what works for you to make the magic happen than to follow the “how-to” advice of others. I’m not advocating binge-writing, because it won’t compensate for procrastination, disorganization, lack of focus or concentration, or working through your thoughts in your head. But for those who need to clear their brain of all extraneous matters and their calendar of all competing distractions before they tackle writing long, binge-writing may be a method you shouldn’t feel guilty about using.

How do you get your writing mojo going?

10 thoughts on “Are you a binge-and-purge writer?

  1. This was interesting. This past week I was feeling uninspired at the keyboard, but when I sat down with pen and paper, the words just flowed out. I often write my first drafts out by hand, and wonder sometimes if the mechanics of handwriting engages the brain differently.

    • Dani Shapiro talks about having the right kind of notepad and proper pen for inspiration. Sitting at the keyboard to work is great if you’re editing, but it is hard to type and sit on your inner editor at the same time. I think writing longhand helps you slow down enough to process the ideas into words. Whatever works!

  2. Refreshing post, Jill. I’m big fan of Bird by Bird and Writing Down the Bones. Both books freed me up and gave me permission to write fiction.

    I am more a project by project kind of writer. I also abide by Anne Lamott’s “one inch picture frame” viewpoint of just concentrating on small chunks at a time.

    My first efforts and ideas start out with a mechanical pencil and legal pad, journal, or whatever paper is at hand. As I scribbled down ideas, I disregard the lines and my handwriting is pretty eligible.

    My last novel was written on a quick deadline so I tried to stay in the story and live it through the end. Sometimes that meant I scribbled on the bulletin in church instead of listening to the sermon.

    • I’m a fan of all of the writers who advise the daily discipline of a writing practice. And I can’t advocate for the binge-and-purge method, but I think it’s something more writers use than will admit. Glad to know I’m not the only one! And those deadlines do seem to help in getting the mojo going, don’t they?

  3. On the first raw draft, I usually close my eyes and let thoughts pour out on the keyboard. My fingers usually keep up with my thoughts. Is this binge-and-purge or vomit? Of course, there are lots of edits after that.

    Then I print a draft out, read it and note edits in long hand. Then it’s back to the keyboard to make corrections. The number of iterations depends on how much I’m on my game. Reading the printed version is quite different from reading content on the screen.

    Whatever works, go for it!

    • Round and round we go! The number of iterations sometimes seems endless. Once I’ve typed up my draft and edited it a hundred times, I often print it out. I see things in print I don’t see on the screen. And I also read it out loud. That leads to more revisions. But I always keep the first raw draft, whether created on the computer or scribbled in my notebook, because there is where I’ve poured my heart out. I agree that whatever works for a writer to get the story out of their hand and into text is okay!

  4. Thanks for permission. I used it to write about tomatoes today–the thing in life demanding action. Do I feel guilty I’m not writing about weighty matters, Jungian psychology, mythology, new layers of grief, new brilliant observations of life. Nope, I’m binging in tomato sauce and it’s beautiful and green and pungent. The blog is about the conflict between the writer and the earth mother–or something like that. With recipe.

    • With recipe? Nom! The pungency of tomatoes can be intoxicating and glad they were your muse today. And you have permission not to write a thing today and simply soak up the experiences. When the tomatoes are done the pen and paper will still be there. The things in life demanding attention are not in conflict with writing. They complement them. They give us something good to write about. And occasionally eat.

  5. I find that writing small bits every day (either in notebook or on scattered pieces of paper which end up pasted into notebook) helps to provide the beginnings of my weekly blogs. The daily early morning writing didn’t work for me. But keeping a notebook and pen parked in the kitchen has been great for capturing my thoughts daily. I also keep a notebook in the car. Some of my best ideas are hatched while I’m driving. When I’m stuck for what to write about, I go back to these daily notes in my notebooks and get inspired.

  6. Uh oh.

    I am so a binge writer to a good extent. Then again, producing almost 500 pages (220k words) of rough draft in an 80 day period isn’t bad for a binge, I think. I always keep in mind a little toss-away line from the movie “Rat Race”. “My grandfather used to say good things happen over time. Great things happen all at once.”

    One never knows when something sudden will become great, I guess.

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