“Write drunk, edit sober.” I might not particularly care for most of Hemingway’s writings, but I was always fond of that quote. Write drunk, edit sober. Those first two words are my two favorite things. Being drunk and writing. Doing them at the same time must be totally awesome. Write drunk, edit sober.
When I first started writing, this was my process: I had a bottle of midgrade whiskey on my desk that I would take one or two pulls from before writing. I would put on instrumental or foreign language music, and set about the task, taking another shot any time I started to feel stuck. And man, I could plow through some words, have a beginning and an end (but no reasonable middle to speak of. I was young and had yet to really develop a sense of story), and create worlds, though I did all of these things mediocrely. The syntax would be atrocious, and I have never seen more spelling errors in a single piece of written work. Write drunk. Check.
The problem would be that, when I was starting off, I assumed I shat gold. That every word was perfect just the way that it was on the page. Writing is about gut instincts, after all. And I would be a famous writer who would tell everyone that I never had to rewrite anything, that I nailed it on the first draft. This was, of course, before I had ever been published, ever thought about how to publish, Before I completed a creative writing course, completed a story, talked to other writers about the craft, called writing “the craft,” or any of the other things that I have come to do or discover along the way that inevitably changed my process. Edit sober.
The individual’s writing process belongs to the individual. Even similar processes can have unique trademarks that mean all the difference in the world. For instance, in the modern world of ubiquitous technology, a laptop at a coffee shop is not, by any means, unique. But then, the act of writing itself isn’t exactly unique either. No, the process comes down to every other detail that writer intertwines with the words they are getting down on the page. Whether that be in how much or how fast they drink their chosen beverages, the way they sit in the chair, what caused them to choose their seat (I like to sit by the window in the tall stools.) That another aspiring novelist is sitting with his or her back towards the daylight, drinking decaffeinated tea and needs to have a pencil in their teeth is a testament to the individuality of process, despite the fact that both boil down to a writer in a coffee shop.
So while Hemingway may have been a fan of writing drunk and editing sober, there are those who would prefer to do the reverse. There are those who see writing drunk as a hindrance to their work. However, there is no harm in trying out other writers’ processes. This is what we are told. This is the idea behind sharing our process, letting everyone in to the world that we create around ourselves so that we can further create worlds on the page.
But this is why no one’s process should be given any more authority than anyone else’s. Hemingway’s “Write drunk, edit sober” is equally as valid as Joe Schmo’s “Write at exactly 7 in the morning while completely naked.” Welcome to the world of writing.
Nonetheless, we at Chicago Literati are interested in seeing what it is you do while writing. Let us know down in the comments.
Filed under: Opinion