How to plan a weekend of binge-writing?
July 31, 2015 8:30 AM   Subscribe

I'm close to an important academic deadline, and I need to hole up somewhere this weekend and just churn out words. My goal is to produce about 10-12,000 words of rough draft in the next 3 days (there will be time to edit so I'm not too worried about polish at this stage). I would like some tips on how to maximise my chances of getting this done.

Usually I can write for several hours straight when I'm in a state of panic over a deadline, and churn out about 800-1000 words an hour, but I don't yet feel the adrenaline surge that I normally rely on to do this kind of thing. I have my notes / sources etc all lined up, so it's a matter of sticking with the actual writing for several hours, rather than doing any new reading or research: my main worry is that I'll lose focus and switch to editing/rewriting mode or lose focus and collapse into a procrastination spiral. What's the best way to avoid either of those? What would you do if you had this goal? I'd welcome suggestions about both logistics (timers, internet-blocking apps, some other thing I haven't thought of) and mindset (things to tell myself when I am tempted to get off track).
posted by Aravis76 to Writing & Language (25 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
When I was in school and just needed to WRITE and not get stuck polishing, I just opened up a clean word doc. Any time I found myself scrolling back up? STOP STOP NO, save and close, open a new file, and start writing again. Trivial to paste them all back together when you're done.

You can't edit something you can't see.
posted by phunniemee at 8:37 AM on July 31, 2015 [11 favorites]

A thing that helps me in academic draft writing is to put in placeholder sentences that say "Add references on $TOPIC" or "Flesh out discussion after rereading $SEMINAL PAPER". If I don't do that, I lose the thread of the argument every other sentence, and putting it in forestalls my worry that I will fail to credit work I know without breaking the flow. I bold/underline these sentences so I don't miss them on editing.

If I catch myself editing, I flag it with another note saying "Polish this clunky sentence/crummy argument" and move on. And little panic-inducing goals are also helpful. "2000 words before I can eat lunch, oh god I'm starving, 1750 words? Time to do the thing."

Lastly, exercise breaks. Like, 5 minute full-out dance party breaks.
posted by tchemgrrl at 8:46 AM on July 31, 2015 [8 favorites]

The best internet blocking app is to disconnect from the Internet. Like, physically unplug your router and put your phone in airplane mode and then hide it under your mattress or something.
posted by roger ackroyd at 8:49 AM on July 31, 2015 [6 favorites]

Set a timer. Bang away for x number of minutes. Set the timer again and take a break for y number minutes. (x = 10 and y = 2 work good if you're easily distracted. x = 25 and y = 5 work well if you're not.)
posted by SansPoint at 8:52 AM on July 31, 2015 [5 favorites]

Similar to what tchemgrrl mentioned, I find it helpful to include a fill-in ("_____") if I can't come up with a word at the moment to smooth out my writing process. Then during a lull in my writing process, I go back and come up with the fitting words.

Sometimes my process will get so messy that I will find myself needing to review what I've actually written without seeing all the fill-ins and to-dos, so I start a new document and paste together the parts of my essay that are somewhat more solidified, just to check my progress. It helps me get a better sense of where I've been and where I need to go in my essay.

Using a tomato timer has worked for me in the past as well. 25 - 5 minute blocks.

I used to also write in a really small font, single-spaced when I had to write term papers in college. I would expand back to normal formatting when I found myself feeling bad about my lack of productivity. Heh.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 8:55 AM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Give yourself an earlier deadline that you actually have. And embrace some of those distractions. Sometimes we need a break to process our next act of genius.
posted by myselfasme at 9:01 AM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

The best internet blocking app is to disconnect from the Internet.

And the best "just WRITE" tools are a pen and a pad.
posted by holgate at 9:02 AM on July 31, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'll reaffirm the timer and no internet points. I've had solid success with those. I regularly have to churn out lengthy contracts and pleadings in my line of work, I would also suggest the following:

1) Make a point form list of the points you are going to hit. You can then put your head down and write with clear direction.

2) During those regular breaks get up from the desk and move around, exercise if you can.

3) Only go back to edit after you've had a chance to clear your head. Otherwise you're wasting time staring at words you don't really see anymore.

And lastly, don't beat yourself up about this. You are worth more than your productivity.
posted by LegallyBread at 9:04 AM on July 31, 2015 [3 favorites]

Something that works for me in these type of situations is to use a text editor instead of a word processor. Or something like WriteRoom (alternatives if you're on Windows). Because fiddling around with the formatting can become another form of distraction ...
posted by research monkey at 9:11 AM on July 31, 2015

When I'm not feeling the panic to get something done, I use the Pomodoro technique to great effect. It feeds off of the "don't really want to do it, but I can probably stand it for a short stretch" mood I'm in (which is most of the time). It also allows some fun in the process on breaks that you can anticipate coming up soon. I've also found that it's great for simply getting the flow going (sometimes getting started in the hardest), and which point you might be in the groove that can keep you going.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:27 AM on July 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

Some things that helped me when I had a masters thesis deadline looming: 1) I created an outline of headings in my document, and then just started to fill in under each category. It kept me on target and prevented me from getting lost in my research, but gave me some leeway with skipping around. 2) I put some instrumental music on. It acted like a kind of "white noise" for me. 3) Take frequent breaks. I actually took short, ten minute walks to clear my head and get myself back on track. I found this especially good for any moments of writer's block. 4) I kept plenty of healthy, brain empowering foods on hand. Nothing is more distracting than hunger, or the sluggish feeling of just having eaten something high sugar and high carb like a donut.

Good luck!
posted by LilithSilver at 9:38 AM on July 31, 2015

Set a timer. Bang away for x number of minutes. Set the timer again and take a break for y number minutes. (x = 10 and y = 2 work good if you're easily distracted. x = 25 and y = 5 work well if you're not.)

Especially great is a timer that actually makes a ticking noise. Nothing like a tick-tick-tick to make you feel like YOU MUST WRITE.
posted by chainsofreedom at 9:38 AM on July 31, 2015

This might sound insane, but it's how I wrote my master's thesis: by hand. Totally worked for me. Write 100% of the first draft with pen and paper and then type it in after it's done. This may seem tremendously inefficient, but you can't e.g. look at ask.metafilter from a pad of paper.
posted by mcstayinskool at 9:39 AM on July 31, 2015 [4 favorites]

I like to make a list of what I get to do on breaks (for example: a piece of chocolate, three minute meditation, stretch, go to corner store and buy a coke) and plan in advance the order of the treats and when I get to have them. I make them small and time constrained (pro tip: "read metafilter" is a TERRIBLE treat when trying to be productive) so I don't end up spending hours distracted but, boy, do they work well as motivation and reward.
posted by mcduff at 9:40 AM on July 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

Seconding tchemgrrl that you need to add notes to yourself for later instead of trying to do it all right the first pass. To add to that, come up with an easily searchable character string as a flag so that you can be certain of finding them all later. Like I'm writing a sentence about a recent finding ***really? check ref, was this recent or 1990's?*** and can just continue writing without freaking out over the details of what "recent" means. Then go do a search for "***" when you edit.
posted by aimedwander at 10:00 AM on July 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you have writers block from anxiety about the writing, then sit down and write a parody of the piece. You then have a no-pressure draft which can often be edited to become the actual finished product, at least you will have been able to sit in a chair for an hour actually facing the blank document and churning words out which should lower your anxiety level enough that more serious words come out.
posted by Jane the Brown at 10:06 AM on July 31, 2015 [6 favorites]

If I had to do this and had the money to do so, I would get the nicest hotel room I could afford, with a king size bed, and lock myself in. I like to be comfy while writing, so the bed would be the workspace.

Sometimes what it took for me to finish OMGWORK in grad school was to find a place that was neither home nor office, because those were the worst places to have other chores and to-dos cram into your head. I needed a neutral space where the only thing was the OMGWORK.
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:09 AM on July 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

Wow. Ok. That's a lot of words! I write a lot and quickly, but my brain just quits after about a 2,000 word block after which I find that I actually do more damage than good to an argument. I hope it doesn't sound too condescending to suggest that maybe after this bender you come up with a system...less panicky? I really like The Clockwork Muse, and How to Write a Lot; not everything about their advice works for me, but I get a lot of calm, productive work out of setting aside some time in my calendar/schedule most days out of the week for writing projects. And I divide those between, "project with looming deadline," "project with longer deadline," "project that I'm working on that is new and shiny." I aim to write about 1,000 mostly-usable words per week on looming deadline project; I don't count the words on the other projects, especially since some of that writing is reading and research and, mostly, I'm just happy to be making some progress on them. I've also found some useful tips in Gretchen Rubin's book on habits.

But to address your question (and with this in mind to chasten me for offering myself as an example), I have found the app SelfControl to be really useful for shutting off my access to my common procrastinating websites when I need to get work done. I especially like how it helps me plan for procrastination. So I might set SelfControl for four hours, or something. When those four hours are up, I can grab a snack, peruse the internet, talk to my partner, check in on my kid, take a walk - whatever - and then reset it again for four more hours. I think scheduling breaks is important because it offers you a carrot at the end of your writing stick.

I also schedule my writing in wordcount chunks. If I had 12,000 words to write, I might imagine the piece in five chunks (2,000 words introing, 4,000 words about evidence X, 2,000 words about evidence Y, 3,000 words about theory Z, 1,000 words conclusion, etc. - or whatever combination of words that imagines the major sections/moves/evidence that comprise the writing project). The chunks feel easier to knock down than the whole shebang.

Like others have said, when I'm churning out words, I leave thorny sentences, citations, and argumentative sticking points blank, denoting in my document [finish], [cite], [footnote], [double check] and [rewrite]. These are all quick and easy for me to slip in and easy enough to search and find and fix later. When a section is proving particularly challenging to write, I often move it to a new, blank document - a lot like phunniemee suggests - because otherwise I will do what it sounds like you do and just edit the words already on the page.

I also use my friends and colleagues to help with accountability. I will often email a friend and say, hey, I don't really need you to read or comment on what I'm working on, but can I send you [X] number of words by [date]? If you're doing a three day bender, maybe ask a friend if they're willing to get 4,000 words from you by 10pm every day in their email inbox?

I like to give myself rewards for accomplishing big and/or really hard writing projects: new sneakers? A fancy dinner out? A nice hike? A trashy novel to read? Whatever. I sometimes use my one hour breaks to surf the internet imagining/planning/researching how I might treat myself once I finish this damn project.

Finally, I sometimes find I have to take myself out of my regular workspace (which is at home) to get some damn work done: I prefer libraries to coffeeshops. And depending on money, I wouldn't look askance at a weekend away in a cabin without internet access but with a hot tub.

You can do this. Good luck!
posted by pinkacademic at 10:36 AM on July 31, 2015 [3 favorites]

Personally, it helps when I set up an outline (of section titles) in the word (or whatever) doc.

Fill them in section by section. If I get stuck, move onto another section.

I'll get ideas for other section titles (or stuff that I see that I'll have to write about) and add them to the outline when they come up. If it's unformed rough-idea-stuff, I may even just do point form and return to flesh those out.

Sometimes a waste of time, but I start each day/writing section off by reading what I had previously written. Sometimes that'll get me over a hump in a "stuck" section or come up with new section titles.

Keep plugging away at each of the sections. Sections may get moved around (cut and past entire sections) for better logic/organization. Sometimes that will inspire more section titles that will need to be filled in.
posted by porpoise at 10:57 AM on July 31, 2015

Thanks, everyone. I've handwritten a list of your tips to keep by me tomorrow and am taking the advice to turn off the internet for the weekend.
posted by Aravis76 at 11:30 AM on July 31, 2015

My favoured method of keeping off the internet to get shit done is Freedom. There's something about spending the $10 that makes it seem somehow official that I am Staying Off the Internet Today.

For drafting (I'm a translator) if there's anything I get stuck on while in a Freedom session I mark it with a placeholder XXX so I can search for all the uncertainties once it's time to research them.
posted by altolinguistic at 1:26 PM on July 31, 2015

I write like this when I'm on a train. So if I were under this pressure I'd shell out for a round trip Amtrak ticket to somewhere far away and just spent a couple days on the train.
posted by somedaycatlady at 4:20 PM on July 31, 2015

[A couple of comments deleted. Non-prescription use of prescription drugs isn't a good way to go here.]
posted by taz (staff) at 1:28 AM on August 1, 2015

Find a writing partner! Being in a room with somebody else who is writing has some weird psychological effect that helps me focus. Every time I try to take a break or space
out I hear them typing and get back to work. They say the same.
posted by one_bean at 7:00 PM on August 1, 2015

This may be too late for your particular project this weekend. I've been working on a giant writing project for about 18 months, and the most productive times I've had have been when I was away from my home. I put out a request to friends on Facebook offering to house-sit/pet-sit while they were away, in exchange for a quiet place to write for a day or two. I got a number of responses and took up almost all of them. It's amazing how being away from the things of your own home allows you to focus on the work you need to get done. No one else is around, there's really nothing else for you to do - it's get the writing done or be bored. It also feels very serious and intentional. So I highly recommend this.

At the moment I'm actually posting from a B&B type place that a colleague and I came to so we could work for an unbroken 8 hours on a mutual project. It's a little expensive but on the other hand, I'm getting a lot more done and not wasting money on other distractions/entertainments. Even a boring motel can provide you a retreat.

I find I can only write in about 3-hour focused shifts. I can do 3 of those shifts a day. So a good writing day goes like, write, break for lunch, write, break for exercise, eat dinner, write, bed.
posted by Miko at 7:03 PM on August 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

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