Writers are supposed to write drunk, then edit sober, according to the late Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway knew a lot about writing and drinking, so he must be right.
But what does the phrase mean? Should it be taken literally?
Let’s talk about Hemingway’s quote. I’m going to suggest some healthier alternatives to cirrhosis and death for the sake of trying to write. After all, if our readers take his advice literally, we’ll run out of readers.
If you want to follow Hemingway’s advice literally, I’m assuming that you know how to procure and imbibe alcoholic beverages. That clearly sets the stage for writing drunk.
There’s two main reasons why you shouldn’t follow Hemingway’s advice:
- It’s bad for your health because many people fail at exercising moderation and too much alcohol damages your health.
- It costs money that you could be using to support this website by purchasing future products and services.
Instead of literally writing drunk let’s reflect. What is it about alcohol that is good for the creator?
- Blurred vision?
- Slurred speech?
- Loss of balance?
- Passing out?
Or, is it…
The removal of inhibitions?
That’s right. Removing your inhibitions is an advantage when writing your first draft. There’s anecdotal evidence from numerous sources that shows that you should not self-edit when writing.
You have a conscious mind which you’re using to read, perform logical tasks, or otherwise do things with intention. Many people believe that there’s a subconscious part of our minds which works in secret, only rarely giving us glimpses of what it’s doing. If we remove our inhibitions, it could allow us to tap into a rich, hidden world and produce some really amazing things.
That’s how the early stages of brainstorming work. If you do enough brainstorming and idea generation, you come to appreciate that it takes time until the best ideas surface. If you do morning pages, you’ll come to discover amazing thoughts and ideas appearing without any warning.
But if your inhibitions stay intact and your inner Editor starts censoring you, the really cool stuff may never emerge.
So let it come out without hindering it. Either learn to ignore that little contrary voice in your head that tells you that everything is crap or else outrun it.
If you can write as fast as you can, without stopping to think about what you are doing, you can bypass your inhibitions and let your subconscious thoughts emerge.
This is important because when you are generating ideas , the best ones come from unexpected places or random combinations. They don’t make logical sense at first but they can provide great results.
Getting drunk is a simple way of removing your inhibitions but it’s harmful. Ignore the Editor, turn down her volume, or outrun her: those are far safer options.
There’s a downside to letting the subconscious mind spew out ideas: many of them will be bad. You won’t understand some. Others won’t flow logically.
But there should be at least one or two brilliant ideas, concepts, or phrases that will be perfect for what you are writing.
After you’ve had time to sober up (or have taken a short break from writing) you’re going to be refreshed and more objective. When you can think clearly, you can properly evaluate what you’ve written. You can judge whether or not it fits into the piece that you are writing.
Now’s the time to get the scalpel and start cutting. Get rid of the fluff, the fat, and the nonsensical. Keep the good bits, mold them to fit, and keep building.
Most of us are lousy self-editors because it’s virtually impossible to be objective during the act of creating. It’s better to just let it all come out when you write and worry about how good it is later. You know what? It’s more fun, too.
And if you can accomplish both tasks without getting sick and dying, that’s awesome.
One final note
Just to give you an idea of how write drunk, edit sober works, the original length of this article was 1180 words. The final count, after revising and editing, was 750 words.
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