binge writing

That's Boice's term, I think, to describe the intense bouts of writing performed by those of us hooked on the adrenaline of a deadline. I've been a deadline-motivated writer ever since the fourth grade (when I was assigned my first research report). And it has worked pretty well for me up until the past few years.

Basically, in a nutshell, I'm getting too old to stay up all night. So this weekend I'm confronting the onset of middle age as well as the adrenaline of a missed deadline. Not a pleasant existential combination.

Because I believe in the possibility of self-improvement, and I'm always looking for better organizational strategies for both time and space, I've read several books about how to transform my life and my writing -- books I believe, and recommend to others, but have so far had great difficulty putting into practice. Because the definition of tenure-track is Working For a Deadline. A Huge Deadline. And that looming deadline caused me all kinds of stress and resistance and intellectual paralysis.

But that one, thankfully, I passed -- not in the ways that I might have wished, but in the way that counts: I have tenure (for which I am grateful, every day).

Basically, my experience was such that I could not approach my writing as a space of freedom or exploration because I felt so constrained by institutional expectations. And all the methods that promise to change your life and can be summed up as: "write a little bit every day and watch it add up" (Boice, Zerubavel, Bolker, etc etc) are basically offering ways of thinking about writing not as polished finished product, but as exploration and messiness that can be reshaped later on. In the humanities, at least in my field, the usual expectation for one's first book is that it be a revision of research begun with the dissertation. So that even if you have a new chapter or a new approach to some of your material, there's a lot that really doesn't feel like new exploration. So that, too, was a kind of obstacle for me.

Not to mention my long-standing habits of research and composition, which usually involve long periods of notetaking (which is a kind of writing, but is it Writing? I'm never sure if it really counts) and reading followed by bursts of writing. The deadline method worked a lot better for me as an undergrad, of course -- not only because the essays I was writing were a lot shorter and less complicated, but because I didn't have a computer-- I wrote everything longhand, and had to build in time for retyping. Ever since I wrote a dissertation, I've had a harder time being on time -- in my daily life as well as with my writing. It's like I used up whatever self discipline I had on the dissertation, and since then I've just been muddling along pretending to be organized, but not really feeling as on top of things as I'd like.

I'm on the verge of starting some new projects that I hope will allow me to also really give the daily writing method an honest try. Because quite frankly, it no longer feels as exhilarating to stay up late, to get so focused on a project that the world recedes from view. I'm too old. I'm too bored. I have other things I'd prefer to be doing than writing this stupid essay, all frickin weekend.