Write drunk. Edit sober.
Anyone can write. But it is the fine art of editing that makes the writer.
“Write drunk. Edit sober,” is a well-loved quote some attribute to Ernest Hemmingway and one I perhaps should consider. Liver be damned.
‘Tis true that the best ideas come from a free flowing stream of consciousness. You know the feeling: the right side of the brain is firing on all cylinders. Your creativity is at its peak. That Zen-like state kicks in and the ideas spill forth.
It’s the writer’s euphoric state. And for some, it is kick-started by alcohol or illegal substances. When it finally ends and very last bit of your entrails are out on the page, you sit back, exhausted and read it.
And that’s when everything comes to a sobering crashing halt.
The left brain muscles its way in and you shake off the lingering strains of fluidity. As quickly as you slipped into creative mode, the party ends and you march into editing mode. Sigh.
Not nearly as much fun, but come awwwnnn, you can’t submit that garbage to your client, editor, teacher or boss. Because here’s the truth. Nobody bangs out a perfect first draft that requires no editing. Clients and bosses should be extremely wary of hiring someone who professes they can.
Perhaps then, writing is not really writing. Rather, it is a slow, meticulous and brutal reshaping of your material. The words, sentences and paragraphs are subjected to it all: cut or copied, bumped or moved, abbreviated or elongated, punctuated or inflated.
And then done again.
And again. And yet again.
It may take days, weeks, even months. It may take 25 drafts. But all of that is okay. Really. Because at the end, you will hopefully have something that is actually, well, quite good. Maybe even award-winning great.
And here’s the magical part. To your reader, it is a perfectly written piece of copy, prose or report. Maybe you are even praised for being SUCH a great writer. And nobody knows but you - the sobering thankless process you underwent to make it so. Nobody knows how many versions you went through. Nobody knows you consulted an online thesaurus or went sleepless for three nights straight. Actually, nobody cares.
The good news? Your next fix is just around the corner. You will feel it again. The exquisite free-flow of ideas. The sheer glee as once again, your right brain is the life of the party.
And when you come off that high to edit, consider this: the pain of that withdrawal is a necessary step in the road to exceptional writing. I think Ernest would agree.
Christine Thompson is a Vancouver-based freelance copywriter who is considering taking up heavy drinking. www.jellybeancommunications.com