Friday, February 15, 2013

The Seven Deadly Sins of Writing - Gluttony

What do turquoise waters and clear blue skies have to do with gluttony? One word: Vacation. As in, the one I was on last week - in the sunny, warm - wherein loads of solidly mediocre food was omnipresent and wherein I ate WAAAAY too much of it.

Clearly, the writerly sin of gluttony has little to do with food. I don't say 'it has nothing to do with' because food *can* be involved in the writer's sin of gluttony. More to the point, however, food provides a handy metaphor to talk about gluttony.

Writers can be gluttons in a couple of ways:
1. Biting off more than you can chew
2. Binging
3. Refusing to take a break despite your body's signals that you'd better

The first one is easy and seductive. You're going to write a NOVEL. And you're going to do it right now. This weekend. Well. Okay. This week. No. Look! That novel in a month thing! But you're going to write ALL THE WORDS!

Oh. Look. That encompasses both numbers 1 and 2. Does that make me a glutton? Mm. Vacation established that. Back to the point - You have a goal to write a novel. That's brilliant. It's just that goals are slippery, slimy little bastards. We all know we should have them, but they squirm out of that SMART acronym with alarming ease. (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely) It's really, really hard to break your dreams of grandeur into itty-bitty, baby bites without feeling like you're stabbing yourself in the soul.

Yet you know, either from horrific example or really tough experience, what happens when you stuff half a cow in your maw. You choke.

Samething happens when you try to stuff too big a writing goal into your day to day. Which brings us to the binge.

From a psychological standpoint, a binge is usually an attempt to fill an emotional rather than a physical hunger. The problem, of course, is that while foods are mind altering substances (put down that chocolate, coffee, cola or adult beverage if you don't believe me) our bodies aren't really designed to take emotional sustenance from food. A writing binge is a bit the same - it addresses fear and insecurity, but only on a short term basis. It isn't possible to build a lasting, sustainable, healthy career entirely on binges. And we all know what comes after the binge, anyway. The purge.

Law of nature. For every action there is that equal and opposite reaction. A writing marathon to meet a deadline? Sure. Justify it. But know you're going to pay for it with days of recovery, which so smoothly slips into weeks of not writing. Then you're binging again, stuffing anything and everything on the page in a terrified attempt to fill that gaping hole of blank space so you can make that deadline. And you're haunted by the fear that this isn't your best work. It can't be. It's going too fast. You're putting in too many hours, pouring too many words through your all too human neurons and you can't THINK.

Thus point 3: Ignoring your body's pleas for a break or more ideally, for a pace that makes sustainable sense. You might be a glutton if you're reaching for a substance - legal or not, food, drink, treat, whatever - to stave off sleep and to buy you a few more hours of productivity. This comes regardless of the price tag. In no way am I saying that a cup of coffee to shift your brain from 'sleep' to 'awake' means you're a gluttonous sinner doomed to an eternity in a Bosch painting. It's when you can't function without the substance that you've slipped over an edge that might not be in your best interest.

The only way to guard against gluttony is to break everything up into tiny, bite-sized pieces and then to parse out those pieces across the days per week you spend at the keyboard. Sit down, do your bites, get up, walk away and have a life. It sounds so easy. It's so hard to do.

Binging especially can be such an addictive high. Deadlines produce adrenaline, and boy, fingers and thoughts fly under the influence of that stuff. It's just that it's also really hard on your heart. And a bunch of other organs you're sort of attached to.

No matter how small you cut up your bites, you're sometimes going to feel as if you've bitten off more than you can chew. That's pushing your boundries a bit and it's healthy. It won't paralyze you. Choking will. An occassional writing marathon to squeeze a novella in between your novels on deadline? Absolutely. It'll rejuvenate you and make you feel alive. But constant binge/purge cycles will drain your creativity at the very least.


  1. Great post, Marcella! It really made me think about the way I approach writing sometimes.

    And darn, I wanted to be a gluttonous sinner in a painting. :shrug: Guess my morning coffee just isn't enough to get me there. ;o)