Monday, May 14, 2018
Write Drunk, Edit Sober
To follow up on the last post, this one now proceeds into the nuts and bolts of the Process – the mechanics of writing. This is a little more complex and elaborate, so it serves everyone best to discuss individual pieces of it across a few posts to develop all that this stage holds. And the simplest part is the mechanics of being a writer.
Being a writer is, at its core, writing. What this means is when you are writing, you shouldn’t worry about anything else but putting one word after another. Don’t think about whether a particular sentence should be in the subjunctive. Don’t contemplate what adverb sounds just right. Don’t sweat how to spell the word “occurrence.” And definitely don’t go back and forth about how much to put in or take out for the description of a scene. These are all important, but not for the mechanics of writing. They are mechanical processes that come later. For now, just write.
Ernest Hemingway supposedly once said, “Write drunk, edit sober.” The takeaway from this is hopefully not to develop a drinking problem, but to write without reservations, restrictions, or inhibitions. And a part of that is to not write like an editor, thinking about all the parts of grammar and so on. It is about placing words down and telling a story. It is going free-verse, letting everything spill onto the page. This is not as easy as it might sound, but it is very important to the Process.
A part of this is about giving your inner writer a few liberties. When you are writing, tell yourself that these words can be changed; that errors can be corrected. Understand that there will be slip-ups, problems, and missteps. The first draft is never perfect, nor should it be, because the story grows even as you tell it. All of these problems will come out as you write, but they are not the concern of the writer. The editor needs to worry about that, and while you are writing, that editor in you shouldn’t even be in the same room.
Editing is a separate part of the process, and should be done with an entirely different temperament. As drunk as the writer should be, that’s how sober the editor should be. Editing is simple, pragmatic, and to-the-point. The only thing that changes in editing is whether you are editing closely (grammar, verb conjugation, whether or not to put in that last comma, etc.), or editing for broad content (does this piece serve a purpose, do the events flow naturally, is there continuity for the reader, and so forth). Then there is the edit run where we ask the questions we avoided as a writer – Is this the right adverb? Do the words match the way the character speaks? Is this sentence effective? This part of editing will be discussed at a later point, but for now the takeaway is that at no time should the editor and the writer share the same space.
One of the editor’s responsibilities, however, is making sure that everything that the writer creates aligns with the purpose of that essay, chapter, novel, etc. This is the structuring part of writing, which is another valuable part of writing mechanics and the process in general.
And it will be the subject of the next post.