Thursday, January 28, 2010

How and Where of Binge Writing

I must say that I, too, am a binge writer. If I can have many hours of uninterrupted writing, I take it. A lot of times it is necessitated by pending deadlines, but it is how I would prefer to write. I also greatly prefer to write late at night. I could easily start late at night and stay up writing till morning, then go to sleep...if there weren’t people who needed to be taken care of or jobs to get to. Since coffee shops (and their outlets and free wi-fi) in the suburbs aren’t open past 10pm, the late-night writing occurs at home, often sitting on the couch with the laptop when everyone else is asleep. I am so hoping that when we move to a bigger home, I can find a dedicated “writing space” that is mine only. I feel that a dedicated space would help me to also have more scheduled time for writing--an hour or two each day. It used to seem crazy, that you could “force” inspiration into a schedule, but that’s not the issue anymore. New ideas spring forth all the time and now there are pages and pages of ideas waiting for scheduled thought.

In the meantime, if it’s a weekend and I need to get everyone out of my head but my characters, I will escape with the laptop to the local library or one of the coffee shops. It can be difficult to tune out conversations of others, who are shockingly uninhibited about discussing in public whatever topics cross their minds, using whatever verbiage escapes their lips. So sometimes I give in. I open my “ideas” document and I start jotting down some of the things I am hearing, they way people phrase things, what the people look like, and what my own responses might be if I were a person at that table. I might even imagine where they live, work, go to school, what their relationships and families are like, what they do for fun, what their political and religious leanings are, what music and movies they like.

Often the best time for inspiration happens when I am out walking/running the dog. In the dark, of course. I even bought a digital voice recorder so that I could just say the thoughts aloud as they came to me. Sometimes it was scenes of dialogue, which would have been hilarious or possibly worrisome if anyone ever did happen to pass us in those late hours. However, if I were speaking into the recorder, that would interfere with listening to my music, which greatly spurred my thoughts. I would listen to playlists of songs that fit with the mood of a particular scene or theme of the story or songs with which my characters would identify. So I opted to just listen to the music, try and retain everything that popped into my head during the outing till I could get in the door, grab the laptop and furiously type. Since these outings with my dog, Shamrock, were so good for my writing health as well as my physical health, I shall make his picture famous here.

I guess the last thing I’ll say about the how of writing is that music really does help me. In addition to what I described above for longer stories, I do find it useful for picture books. When I was working on the ideas and sounds for a story about a kitchen band, I was listening to three or four songs from my son’s music class about playing in the kitchen and tricks with rhythm sticks, sometimes listening intently to the different sounds so I could find accurate words to convey them. In writing picture books, I often must confront the issue of word count. Publishers certainly do not want anything over 1000 words, usually nothing over 800 words, even better if less than 600 or 700 words. How to tell a story in fewer words? It does help to look at successfully published picture books, but it also helps me to listen to certain songs.

Sometimes it’s the imagery and mood conveyed by the lyrics: the sheer beauty described in Van Morrison’s “Sweet Thing,” the hopefulness of The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence,” the intensity of obsession in the scenes of The Pixies’ “Cactus,” the horror and dread of Jeff Buckley’s “Nightmares by the Sea,” the incredible sadness in the images of Elton John’s “Empty Garden” tribute to John Lennon. Other songs tell entire stories in far less than 600 words, with very specific phrases and images: Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill”, “Fairytale of New York” by the Pogues, “Message in a Bottle” by the Police, “Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon, “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John. Heck, the Beatles describe entire lifetimes in songs like “In my Life” and “Ob-la-de, Ob-la-da.” Why can’t I whittle down my far less poignant picture book???

There are songs that simply have lines that would easily lend themselves to illustrations: “I was a willow last night in a dream, I bent down over a clear-running stream.”--Heart, “Crazy on You.”
“You walked in to the party, like you were walking onto a yacht. Your hat strategically dipped below one eye, your scarf it was apricot.” Not to mention the dreams that were clouds in Carly Simon’s coffee in “You’re So Vain.” And the songs that effectively use humor to describe the story: “And now you know that I suck at this, and you suck at it, too. And now we’re nothing more than vampires in love.”--Marvelous 3, “Vampires in Love.”

So if you see me in your local cafe with my earphones in, I may be concentrating on one of these songs for guidance. But I may be faking it and instead listening to your conversation next to me. Watch out, you may end up in my novel...


  1. Wo. I am now paranoid of people listening in. Thanks trager you have officially given me an Orwellian complex. I did not know you were a fellow binge writer. Is there a treatment for us?

  2. Now I know. If I see people on the street having conversations with themselves, maybe they're not schizophrentic; they're just writers.

  3. Music is a great idea - I have been a Sounds of Silence person - via the library and clergy world - but I might give it a try. What tunes are good for a tundra tale?

  4. Listening to music always gets me into the mood for writing, and sometimes a glass of wine to help my mind relax and my thoughts flow freely. You can't have too much of the later, because then, you won't get anything done.
    I don't mind if I end up in one of your novels just as long as it's not the same one with the crazy neighbors.

  5. I agree with Urania about the music, and, if I'm being honest, the wine. Fairytale of New York is a fantastic song, BTW. I'm OK being in one of your novels too, just not in a bad prom dress.