Do you write for long stretches of time then go for days (or months or years) without writing at all?
Did you know that binge writing can hurt your productivity in the long term, and lead to feeling a sense of aversion to writing, along with feeling blocked and depressed?
I’ve written before about how it’s a mistake to wait for big blocks of time to write because they never seem to come. But what if waiting for those writing blocks is actually counter-productive?
Binge writing is writing in marathon sessions — several hours, days, or even weeks — usually to meet deadlines, but also when writers get into the “flow” and don’t want to stop or lose momentum. Many writers swear by the practice and for others it seems unavoidable. Some writers who write in a binge pattern even question whether or not they are “real writers” because they don’t write every day or have a regular writing habit.
Personally, I rarely get to a deadline that doesn’t involve an extra push at the end, so I have my own kind of binge writing I do from time to time, particularly when or if my regular writing practice gets disrupted.
But what’s the cost of binge writing?
Remember your college days? Where you’d sprint through a grinding three weeks of endless studying and finals, only to crash and burn the minute they were over?
Binge writing has a similar effect.
Think about the last time you burned the midnight oil for days at a time to meet a writing deadline or because you were “on fire” with your project. How did you feel afterward? How long did it take you to start writing again? And how did you feel about that?
In a 1999 study by Robert Boice, “Which is more Productive, Writing in Binge Patterns of Creative Illness or in Moderation?” the findings showed that:
“Binge writers (a) accomplished far less writing overall, (b) got fewer editorial acceptances, (c) scored higher on the Beck Depression Inventory, and (d) listed fewer creative ideas for writing. These data suggest that creative illness, defined by its common emotional state for binge writers (i.e., hypomania and its rushed euphoria brought on by long, intense sessions of working—followed by depression), offers more problems (e.g., working in an emotional, rushed, fatiguing fashion) than magic.”
Binge writing as a path to burnout?
Clearly, the downside of the short-term solution of binge writing is its long term effects.
Many writers find that although binge writing has worked for them in the past, they find themselves procrastinating and dreading their writing, or even feeling averse to writing. It’s as if the writing itself has become painful.
I call this burnout.
And recovery from burnout takes time. Just like a creative wound that results from a rejection or a harsh critique, we must also recover from creative exhaustion. Perhaps it is no wonder that binge writers often feel like their creative well has run dry, and that it takes many months or years before the well refills and they are inspired with new ideas for new projects. They are tapped out.
Boice’s studies also revealed an interesting fact (which I mentioned in my last article, “Don’t Wait For Writing Inspiration“): Daily writers are twice as likely to have frequent creative thoughts as writers who write when they feel like it.
So if writing regularly pays off not only in terms of creative ideas, but also in the realm of mental health, inspiration, and productivity, perhaps the glamour of binge writing — like any kind of binging — is overrated.
What do you think?