Sally Bosco interviewed Emily about Binge Writing. Here is the full interview.
What do you write?
I write for young adults, mostly between the ages of 13-18. I’ve had to learn to become an intensive writer because of my husband, whose big line is “But I married you so I could spend time with you…” How do you fight that? Being an author is a lonely and solitary business, when it comes down to it, so I suppose it’s a bit of betrayal in a way. In order to minimize his pain, I’ve learned to knock out entire novels in about two to three weeks, at a word count somewhere between 45-60,000 words. I simmer throughout the year, and then I purge when I get a solid chunk of free time.
Why does having an intensive writing period work for you? How did you become a binge writer?
I’m a high school English teacher, so having summers off really works well for me. Stephen King says a good writer should a thousand words every day, but I doubt my hubby would let me have that time! Nor would my 18-month old daughter, or my 8-year-old daughter, who need my attention almost every minute of the day until they go to bed. However, I do have five minutes to myself throughout the day. While that is not enough to sustain a mood or put together an entire scene, it is enough to jot down my thoughts on some sticky notes. In fact, I’ve developed a pretty simple system over the years. Though it seems elaborate at first, it’s really logical.
What do you do, writing-wise-to prepare for your binge writing sessions? Do you have an already prepared outline?
My system involves about 30 4×6 notecards, several pads of small and medium sticky notes, and a large gem clip. I carry the sticky notes with me wherever I go (napkins get wet at restaurants and receipts get lost). For Phase One, I take notes. Whenever I think of something I want in my novel – dialogue, something to research, a personality trait – I write it on my sticky note. All the sticky notes go on one notecard; I’ll sort them out later when I get a chance. I don’t censor anything and I don’t change anything until I get to Phase Two. That’s when I take a look at all the sticky notes I’ve collected over the year (or sometimes it’s just a few months, since I might have Thanksgiving or Christmas or Spring Break). I set them out in neat little rows and columns on a flat surface (the kitchen table works well, though I usually only get a few hours before someone else needs to use it… the kids insist on being fed every few hours, you know…). After I’ve had a look at all the notes I’ve collected, I try to put them into some sort of order. I cluster them by theme or effect, and I put each cluster on notecards. If I don’t like where a scene ends up, I can remove it and put it on another notecard. This way, none of my ideas get lost, and I can move them around as needed.
What other things do you do to prepare? Stock up on food, unplug from Internet, get into a special mind-set, etc.?
Sometimes the organizing part takes a few hours, or sometimes it takes days. I don’t worry about the little details; as long as I have enough ideas to get my characters from one point to the next, I can come up with the fillers as I type. I can also move entire notecard-chapters around as needed. It’s such freedom from the old notebooks I used to use, where I’d have to tear out the pages or re-write my notes onto a new location. I adore my sticky note method!
Phase Three is the writing part. This is where I put on the Cranky Face and use the Vicious Voice; if I don’t, my family would never leave me alone. I mean, if the girls walk in on me while I’m in the bathroom, think about how they can ruin the mood when I’m deep in thought! So I make it very clear to them that I need some time to myself. I’ve often considered checking into a hotel or living at Starbucks, but I’ve never gone through with that plan. So I end up in my closet. We’re talking about the coat closet at the front of the house, the one that’s about four feet by six feet and smells like wet feet. I light a candle in there, or maybe put out some vanilla or coffee beans, and then I shove all the coats to one side so I can I haul my comfy office chair to the other. It’s claustrophobic, but it’s exactly what I need. I get to be alone with my thoughts. No distractions, not even a window. Just me, my laptop, and my notes. Then I’m ready to settle down to business.
Before I write each day, I eat a really good breakfast. In fact, I take better care of my body when I write than any other time of year. Writing is exhausting! Holding still is hard enough, and numb fingers are worse, but I get headaches from staring at the screen for too long or from thinking so hard. Breakfast usually includes whole wheat toast with honey or jelly, eggs, and 4 ounces of orange juice. I save the coffee for the afternoon when I start to falter. I hate mornings, so it’s good if I can start writing by 9:00. Any earlier, and I’m not really awake. Any later, though, and I waste my first and freshest energy. I treat myself to a 10 or 15-minute lunch of whatever I’m hungry for, do some stretching and walking around, and then go back to sit. I might even juggle some beanbags or clubs, just to get the blood pumping after all that sitting. Also, I read somewhere that creative brains require sugar. Whether it’s true or not, it’s a great excuse to snack on some Godiva Dark Chocolate pearls! On top of that, I keep string cheese, walnuts and apples nearby.
By the “end of the day,” meaning whenever I can’t focus anymore or whenever my family insists on my presence (whichever comes first), I’ve usually written 2 chapters of about 3,000 words each. I don’t stop until I’ve finished the chapter, though, or else I lose momentum.
The next day, I re-read what I wrote and see if it made sense. Not only does this give me a chance to recapture my momentum, but I can do some quick edits before I start on the next chapters.
Now, we all know that nobody knows the characters until they’re written, which is true, but by the time I get around to writing them down on paper after thinking about them all year, there aren’t usually too many surprises. Even so, there’s always something I didn’t calculate. I wouldn’t say I get “writer’s block,” but sometimes I have trouble connecting my scenes. If that happens, I’ll go clean something (a sink, the floor, maybe even do some laundry) so my family doesn’t think I’ve completely checked out on them. But I try not to talk to anyone because I can’t deal with their problems when I’m creating my own world filled with problems. I live in silence and self-imposed solitude while I’m writing.
Do you complete a draft of an entire novel during this period? What’s your process for editing your draft?
After about two or three weeks, I’m done with a full-length novel. It’s a rough draft, of course, but I’ll edit it throughout the year, mostly on weekends when my hubby’s watching soccer or when my daughters are taking naps. I like finishing them so quickly because it’s easier for me to stay consistent. I’ve found that when I take my time and stretch out the writing over months, every show I watch or book I read or article I research tends to affect my style, characters or plot, and then the beginning doesn’t quite match the end. When I crunch, everything matches. Even though the characters or situations may evolve or change direction when I put them down on actual paper, my preliminary research stays steady.
I’m getting faster every year. My first novel, The Jester of Corona, took me about a year to complete. My quickest,The Dollhouse Romance, took 13 days. My best one, Code Name: Whatever, took five months to write and ten years to edit; it was just released on Amazon.com in e-book and print. Of the twelve novels I’ve completed, however, I’d say I average between two and three weeks. Even so, binge writing sometimes has its down side. I get prideful that I can finish a novel so quickly, so when something takes longer, I feel frustrated or stupid. There’s always the question of “Can I write something in 12 days? 11? 10?” and it’s unnecessary pressure that I can’t shake. There’s always a little voice pushing me to write faster and better. I try to ignore it and focus on telling the best story I can, no matter how long it takes. My latest novel, as yet unpublished and still in the editing process, took 27 days spread over 5 months; I was only able to snag a few hours of writing time during that period of life, so I had to be patient. Still, it’s an immense relief when I finish the writing part! I feel tired, drained, and happy. But never finished. I suppose my novels will never truly be finished; there’s always something to edit, add, change, or rearrange, but I’m learning how to move on to the next project without looking back.
All in all, binge writing works for me. I’m not disciplined to get up early in the morning before the kids are awake, and my evening time is sacred for my hubby and me. So summer vacation or Spring Break are a natural option. If anyone wants to try binge writing, I’d tell them to be organized and know what they want to say, even if they don’t quite know how to say it. And don’t pressure yourself to get it done; just use your time wisely and stay motivated.