“Write drunk; edit sober.”
– Ernest Hemingway
For obvious reasons, this is a popular quote. You can find it on t-shirts, coffee cups…probably even underpants. I’ve posted it a few times on Facebook, usually when I’m drunk and thinking wow, I should really be writing. I think it’s funny and enlightening at the same time. Why? Well, in my eyes there are a couple reasons. One is literal. One, not so much.
Anyone who has tried to edit drunk probably knows it’s not very helpful. You’re going to have to re-edit it again, so why spend quality buzztime trying to polish a turd? Enjoy your buzz, do something fun with it. Like writing. Not texting your ex…that’s just stupid. I mean real writing. Me, I like to write drunk. Not all the time, of course. Just some of the time.
No, I don’t think I’m any better at it than when i write sober, but I do find that I’m more likely to keep writing even if I get stuck. Ever think something is a great idea drunk, only to wonder what the hell was I thinking? when you wake up a few days later? Did I say a few days? I meant the next morning…
Imagine you’re writing your masterpiece and you just have no idea what’s going to happen next. No, this is not writer’s block. This is just getting stuck. Take a break, do something else for a bit, and give it a think. It will come. However, if you’re drunk, you just might figure that a homosexual talking goat would be the perfect thing to move the story along. Go ahead, throw it in there. You can fix it later. That’s what editing is for.
That’s why I like to write drunk. I write a lot more. The first draft is crap anyway, so who cares? Once the first draft is done, then it’s time to make an actual story of it. Of course, if you’re a serious drinker and you take the whole “write drunk; edit sober” thing too literal…well let’s just say you might find yourself with a ton of terrible first drafts and nothing salable to show for it.
So let’s not take the phrase so literally, yes? What does drinking do for you? No, no…besides the vomiting and the hangovers and the what the hell was I thinking?. It decreases your inhibitions. In real life that may not always be such a good thing. In writing, there might be nothing better.
Sit down, forget about everything and everyone around you, and just write. Drop all your baggage from the real world. It will all be there when you get done. In the meantime, let loose with whatever pops in your head. Don’t worry about what people might think when they read it. Don’t worry about who you might offend. Don’t worry that everyone will hate it. Guess what? Someone will. Big deal. Write it anyway, then make it better so that they don’t hate it.
About that sober editing. Yes, you should totally be sober, but you should also approach it with a different eye than when you’re writing. Give it a little critical thinking. Maybe a lot. Sure, the extraterrestrial zombie poodle may have brought you from A to B with a laugh and a knee-slap, but does it make any sense? Probably not. I hate cutting things that were fun to write, but it’s absolutely necessary if they don’t help make your story the best it can be.
Cut that stuff out. Realize it’s crap and move on. It’s a very sobering but necessary step. It’s also the first step in turning your mess into your masterpiece.