Saturday, January 28, 2006

Binge Writing, or The End of The Book

Some authors, when they approach the end of a book, tend to slow down. They become reluctant to end it because they love the characters and don't want to say goodbye.

I fall into the other category. I tend to speed up as I approach the end of a book. I write slightly longer hours, a few more pages--I want to get to the end and see what happens. (I'm not a pure seat-of-the-pants writer--just a hybrid. I know generally what happens, but I don't know. Not exactly.) I just this past week finished a book that grew out of all control to much longer than the very generous word count I was allowed, and because I'm one of those freakish throwbacks who write first drafts in longhand, once I finished it, I still had to get it all in the computer. For the last two weeks, I've had tunnel vision.

I forgot a haircut appointment. My hair's getting so out of control, it's beginning to resemble a mullet. (I did reschedule--and I really hope I don't forget a second time.) I forgot a doctor's appointment. Even though they called me the day before to remind me. (I'm afraid I'm really going to be in trouble with them when I try to reschedule that one.) I've been so totally focused on Finishing The Stinkin' Book That Would Not End that everything else has slid right out of my mind.

Do normal people do this? I feel semi-confident that amongst other writers, I'm surely not the only one who loses all control of ordinary life at one time or other in the process. But sometimes I wonder just how the rest of the world sees us...


Patti O'Shea said...

I do the same thing as I near the end of a book. I'll put in more hours--anything to speed up and finish. The last few of weeks before I'm done is a complete blur. I have little or no memory of anything I said or did during that time unless it involves the story.

People will talk to me at the day job and I'll have to ask what they said because it doesn't make sense the first time (or two). It's as if I'm in an alternate dimension or something and the real world is far away.

Allison Brennan said...

Hi Gail! My endings always go faster. It probably takes me 3-4 months to write the first 300 pages, and 1-2 weeks to write the last 150. Funny you should post about "binge writing" . . . on Thursday I blogged about being "in the zone" and being a binge writer over at . . . great minds, eh?

Heidi Betts said...

LOL, Gail. I'm with you 100%. I don't tend to forget appts. as I near the end of the book, but I resent them because all I want to do is sit there & finish the darn thing.

And like you, I've got a list of things that I need to do now that my book is turned in--like bathe, do laundry, do dishes... The last couple days on a book, I let everything go. :-D

JoAnn Ross said...

I always work this way at the end of a book. I recently turned in a ms after spending the last 60 hrs working straight through with a couple 4 hr sleep breaks. Sometimes I hallucinate floating keyboards and the letters begin to dance on the screen, but that didn't happen this time. Perhaps because I took those breaks before exhaustion set in.

The funny thing about this is once I get past the initial 12-15 hr tiredness, there's this wonderful bright light of clarity that comes over me, and all these things I'd scattered through the book, such as a tossed away comment on page 5, or 50, or 250, fiinally come into play, and I'm going, "Wow! So that's why I put that in there!"

You'd think, at least I would've, that the writing would get sloppy after 30 or so hrs of being awake, but in my case the opposite is true. It's rare to find a typo on those pages, and my editors barely touch them.

Coincidentally, I was talking to a surgeon neighbor last week and asked him if this was how it had been for him during those grueling residency days of 36 hrs on, 8 hrs off, and although he couldn't remember all the details, he said that if he was engaged in a tedious, boring task, exhaustion would come crashing down. However, if it was something exciting, such as someone being brought into the ER in critical condition after an accident or gunshot wound, he'd experience that same type of bright clarity when everything he'd ever learned was suddenly right there and he didn't even have to stop and think about what to do.

I've often thought it'd be interesting to have an MRI of my brain during this time. I like to picture all sorts of bright colors sparking away in my mind as I race toward The End.

I wouldn't, btw, recommend this way of working to everyone. But having accepted it as my process, in a perverse way I've actually come to enjoy it. *g*

Shanna Swendson said...

I do end-of-book binges, as well. It may be months for the first three-quarters of the book, but I may write the last quarter in one week, and quite often I'll do the last 40 or so pages in one day.

Unlike JoAnn, though, these pages aren't perfect. The ending is the first part I revise before I start the next draft because I usually forget something or leave out details as I plow through the action, but I do think the binges create a sense of page-turning excitement.

And I hope to be heading into a good writing binge to finish a draft this week. Then maybe I can get out a steam shovel and clean my house.

Colleen Thompson said...

On my current WIP, I can only wish for binge-writing to set in! Instead, I came groaning to a halt. In was my muse's way of tapping me on the shoulder and forcing me to go back and put in scenes I'd skipped earlier. (I'm always worried about running over page count. With good reason.)

Fortunately, I'm just about over "The Wall," as I call this oft-encountered, 3/4 point. I'm not hoping the end-of-book overdrive will kick in.

Nancy Herkness said...

Gosh, I wish I wrote as many pages as you guys as I near the end of my book. I definitely pick up momentum, especially because I tend to set ambitious pages-per-day goals as the end comes in sight. However, 150 pages in a week! I can only gasp in admiration and envy.

I do get "wifty" as the end nears though because I'm so caught up in thinking about how to get to the final page. You don't want to know how many events I forgot last week; it was truly embarassing. This week I am doing a calendar check every four hours: that means I go downstairs and look at today's date on my appointment book to make sure I haven't inadvertantly blown off something or someone else.

And they accuse professors of being absent-minded...