Will Christopher Baer on Binge Writing
Will Christopher Baer: I learned early on that I do everything in binges, drink, work, relationships: A ten-day day writing binge is ideal but it requires total isolation, solitude— no telephone, no mail. That’s why I started checking into motel rooms, what I called “going under.” And after 24 hours of getting into a flow, I lose all track of time. I’ll nap for an hour, then wake up and I’ve got my laptop right there in front of me. I won’t even disturb the sheets. I’ll sleep on top of them or on the couch if there is one. If I need to clear my head, I’ll take a shower— hot or cold, it doesn’t matter. I wrote a whole screenplay in a weekend doing that. But I lose all social skills and get malnourished, operating on kind of a runner’s high. It’s bad for your health.
I’ve tried to write for four or five hours in the morning, then do other stuff during the day and come back to it later. And I could never explode, you know? I could never let it rip. It was always a little more…. controlled. I never hit that point where I lose track of the days, where I’m thinking prose faster than I can type. And I can type fast.
Craig Clevenger: Okay, you’re ramping up for a writing binge. What do you look for in a good motel?
Baer: I like Motel 6 because they’re all the same. Day or night, any one of them is going to look the same, so it’s easier to get lost. I’ve got to have a smoking room, it helps if there’s a balcony or something. But character’s nice. There’s a place up in San Francisco called the Basque Hotel. It’s in North Beach, you know… where all the famous strip joints are.
Clevenger: So I’ve heard.
Baer: It’s right down the block from the Lusty Lady and upstairs from a bar, a nice quiet little bar. You tell the bartender you want to check in, and they always look surprised like, “How’d you know we had rooms?” And the rooms are seriously old-world funky: lumpy mattress on a steel frame, a little wooden table and chair, no TV, bathroom down the hall, and out the window it’s all neon.
Clevenger: Sounds like noir heaven. So, these binges obviously work for you, but they can also be unhealthy. In what way?
Baer: When I catch fire I write 12, 14 hours a day easy. During periods when money has been flowing and I didn’t have a day job, I maintained a pretty solid writing schedule from like 6 am until noon, then start again when it gets dark, work until midnight or so. But as soon as whatever I was working on got hot, I wrote until I either finished or was exhausted. It can be unhealthy. And while the holing up in motel rooms for the ten-day writing jags/ hunger strikes is very productive… they tend to be relationship killers and hard on the body and soul. And so if I have a day job, a full time relationship, a hardcore drinking habit, and I’m trying to write… the four corners cannot meet. Something always loses. So I’ve eliminated the drinking. It takes work and effort to maintain a serious drinking habit.