Binge Writing

 
Have you done any binge writing during the semester break? How's that working out for you?
 
Have you ever been a binge writer? I am, or I was. I try to avoid binge writing now because it's ineffective and unproductive. But in the spirit of true confession, I'll share. For many years, at least going back to my early years as an assistant professor, I found it impossible to write much during the week. So I tried to write all day on the weekends. When weekends were overtaken with grading papers, writing and grading exams, analyzing data, and writing grant proposals, I would set aside the week of spring break or two weeks of the semester break to write all day long. As it turned out, this didn't work very well. Binge writing, which is saving your writing for big blocks of time or large spurts of often frantic effort, seldom produces lots of writing. And it can create even more stress and anxiety about writing, or the lack thereof.
 
What's wrong with binge writing? To start, if you are not writing regularly, i.e., at least 90 (or at the very least, 15) minutes every day, there is more pressure to produce lots of good writing when you finally, after a week or month or semester of trying to find time to write, actually start to write. My binge writing would look like this: I would promise myself, after not writing during the week, that I would write from 8 to 6 Saturday and Sunday. So much pressure to produce for these 10 hours, anxiety builds, writing is delayed, more pressure builds, more anxiety, writing delayed. And realistically, what any one cognitive activity can you do well for 10 hours straight? I often would organize notes, do more reading, think about writing, or finish other projects that demanded attention - and 10 hours later, no writing. After weeks, even months, of this, I would calculate how much writing I could have produced if I had written every day for only 15 minutes versus my failed attempts at 10-hour writing days once a week.
 
Another problem with binge writing is the amount of time required to return to the focused thinking and productive writing when there is so much time between writing efforts. Writing every day allows you to be productive with less of the fear that accompanies writing. Without regular writing, "Attention shifts from what needs to be accomplished - the anxious person is distracted by worries about the outcome" (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, p. 44). Focus on writing every day and less on the outcome...and you'll accomplish the outcome you seek.
 
Paul Silvia, in How to Write a Lot (2007), offers another reason not to binge write: "Motivated by guilt and anxiety, binge writers don't find the process of writing rewarding. Because of the long binge, the writing period is followed by a burnt-out haze that confirms the binge writer's distaste of writing (p. 128-129). (Silvia credits Kellogg with the term binge writing.)
 
So if you are binge writing and feeling the pain, then commit instead to writing at least 90 minutes each day for the coming week. Then see how that works out for you.
 
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: HarperCollins.

Kellogg, R. (1994). The psychology of writing. New York: Oxford University Press.

Silvia, P. (2007). How to write a lot. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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Some of the information in the BreakWriting postings is drawn from previously published work, and I have tried to properly attribute the ideas and work of others. If I fail to do so, please tell me so I can clarify and correct (Graduate Mentor).

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