Monday, January 4, 2016

The Creative Value of a Binge by Kell Andrews

My winter vacation comes to an end, and with it the end of a binge -- not the usual holiday eating indulgence (although plenty of Christmas cookies were involved) but of a lengthy reading binge spent immersed in Regency romance. I started with Austen, went deep into the Georgette Heyer catalog, then branched out into modern writers, then back to Austen.
The holiday binge is over.

As after most binges, I've ended feeling slightly overindulged -- I've had enough younger brothers with gambling problems, dukes with rakish reputations, and haute ton society gatekeepers to last me another six months. I also have completed a crash course in rule-bound historical romantic tension, which is just what I need for the YA historical fantasy I'm writing.

Prolonged reading binges are how I became literate in the fantasy genre and in the middle-grade category. Until those self-directed educations, I read primarily adult literary fiction, and I haven't gone back yet. Deep and wide immersive reading is form of research for fiction writers, and for me a purely pleasurable one. I had to know the voice and rhythms before I could find my own. I needed to learn the tropes and conventions so that I could avoid or deploy them purposefully, rather than falling into them inadvertently.

Binges are the modern way of consuming media. Binge TV watching started with broadcast marathons, then exploded with DVD box sets. Now digital streaming has turned video consumption from a rationed-out, once a week television appointment to on-demand indulgence. Netflix and Amazon now release whole series at once, and Amazon boasts that its series are "bingeworthy." Why watch one episode at a time when you can watch two or three in a night or a whole series in a weekend?

That kind of immediate gratification is the same for books -- finish one book by an author, then download the rest of the backlist or series. It's how many experience video gaming -- a weekend spent in MMORPG. They're all vicarious forms of living, from which we emerge slightly bleary-eyed, but with a sense of having lived in these imagined worlds and genres.

The difference between a binge that saps energy or feeds creativity is how you feel when it's over. Does it leave you with a hangover or an afterglow? Do you feel as drained as if you were really the one battling invaders, solving murder mysteries, or saving the world, or are you energized to create something new?

For fiction writer, an uninterrupted immersion is just what many of us need -- especially in the form of a binge of inspired writing, whether National Novel Writing Month, a writers' retreat, or just a really good writing day when we somehow quadruple our usual output. For me, my writing binge lasted from August through October, when I wrote 75,000 words, before I fell back into a reading cycle. I've used that extended reading cycle to recharge my creative juices so I can finish this manuscript and try to make it a book.

Today I am back at work, back in the real world after a vacation binge of family and fiction. I'm back to reading middle-grade fantasy (right now The Wrinkled Crown by Mayhemmer Anne Nesbet), and my writing will likely each go back to an hour a day, which is enough to get me where I need to go if I keep working consistently. But I can only do it because I let my creative spirit vacation somewhere else, for just a little while.

(And it probably is time to cool it on the Christmas cookies.)


  1. A timely post, since I am currently binge-watching Jessica Jones. I don't know if I will feel energized or drained at the end. I've been writing in between the episodes -- and liking what I write -- so I'm hopeful!

  2. Due to family mayhem Christmas cookies didn't exist this year. So eat a few more for me, haha. My school banned Lord of the Flies so I'm actually reading middle school books at the moment too. Maybe a post suggesting morbid type classics could help me out? I've always seemed to read slower, I wasn't that kid who could read three Harry Potter books in a day.
    I tend to play the sims when I want a fresh start. It definitely leaves me with a I only play when I'm happy in life and have free time.
    Giving a vacation to particular creative juices is a must! I tend to write best when I'm on all my medication. However I usually pick up a different creative project when giving the other a rest. You'll make an amazing book with the motivation you have!

    - Harlynn (Micaela)

    1. The Sims sounds like a great creative kickstarter! Gets you out of your head.

  3. Happy New Year, Kell! Great insight into the modern "binge" culture. I'm with you on learning through reading--as a Cybils judge I've learned a lot through reading 100+ novels over a two-month period. (And why I am completely fed up with the "dead parent" trope!) Like you, I now need a break, and am reading Philip K. Dick's THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE. After I finish it, I can binge-watch it on Amazon!

  4. I am not a regular binger. At first it seems great then I peeter off and not come back for months. Which is why my use of my Netflix account comes in bursts, spurts and flatlines. In the past I could books like mad but now I am a much slower reader. Something I plan to change this year. Anyway Happy New Year to you and the Project crew!

  5. I'm starting to think the week before Christmas and New Year's is my favorite time all year. The days are full of reading, thinking, sitting, reflexing, and dreaming -- everything necessary to recharge from the days past and refuel for the days ahead.

    I especially appreciate what you've said about reading being a self-directed education. I just got an email from a teacher who'd listened to a podcast I'd recorded, and she wanted to know about the difference between my bonds in the teaching community and in the writing community. One thing I mentioned is as a teacher I had a degree and a job. I was seen as qualified and spent my days with other qualified people. As a writer, I knew no one doing what I was. I'm self-taught with no official qualifications. Finally meeting others in the same boat was hugely, hugely gratifying.

  6. I had a "one-book binge" yesterday, when I read most of Elizabeth Gaskell's 650-page WIVES AND DAUGHTERS while walking around town, running errands. I meant to do some actual work in a cafe, but that whole part of town got shut down by a power outage, so I did some plotting and brainstorming and read more Gaskell instead. Come to think of it, I had just binged on research notes the previous day (typing up 42 single-spaced pages), so this is becoming the Week of Great Binge for me!

    1. I love Wives and Daughters so much! I wish she had gotten to the very end but I like the resolution on the BBC series, although it's probably a little different than hers would have been (that's a series worth a binge too...)

  7. I like a good binge! They are great for letting your brain work undercover in other ways for when you get back to work. My challenge is how to carry that writing binge back into the every day life of a steady flow of writing amongst daily pressures. You've inspired me to go on a reading binge soon!


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!