“Write drunk, edit sober.”
The saying attributed to Hemingway has become a kind of a tongue-in-cheek bit of advice for writers. Experts on writing, editing, and drinking tell us that mixing writing and alcohol doesn’t often work out well. I beg to disagree and ask the experts not to be so literal in their literary criticism.
Hemingway did like his drink, or at the very least indulged frequently enough. However, I think what he was trying to express was that writing should be done with a carefree abandon of inhibition that leaves the writing wondering just what went on last night.
To write well is to get out of our own heads and get into the mind of a character who is without personal responsibility for his/her words and actions once the episode is over. It is to let the imagination run rampant.
C.S. Lewis once said that the great saints and the great sinners are made of the same stuff. I believe that “stuff” is a willingness to be absolutely committed to whatever course they are pursuing. All in, is today’s phrase. Every time the stakes are raised in achieving their end, they defiantly raise the bet yet again.
Of course, neither the thought nor the process ends with writing words on a page. A cold, sober, heartless editing needs to follow in which the writer’s baby is ripped apart. “Drunken” exaggeration, unfounded and unresearched assertions must be weeded out. Unseen errors must be corrected.
Because while a drunken kind of outlook releases the imagination, the writer’s inebriated ramblings must make sense to the reader, operating without the benefit of the same liquid-induced witticism. If you’ve ever tried to hold serious conversation with a drunk, you probably know what I mean.
A great many writers do not feel the need for an editor and that is the biggest drunken mistake of all. Been there, done that (self-publishing without an editor, that is). That editing is expensive, and wine is not, is a poor excuse that results in a poorly done product.