Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Write Drunk, Edit Sober

"Write drunk, edit sober." - Ernest Hemingway

Hey, first, before I get into the main discussion, let me call out yesterday.  It was National Cheesecake Day!  Woo hoo!  How did I miss that, hmm?  The only thing better than National Cheesecake Day would be a time warp in which we could have National Cheesecake Day and National Milk Chocolate Day at the same time.

So, back to drunk and sober.

Last night I wrote about my new discovery, which is actually more of a new acquiescence to reality.  Hey, I realized, I've got too much going on to do any of it well.  When I wrote one book, I wrote it quickly, and then got to where I didn't know what I was going to write in the next one sooner.  With five books at a time, though, I don't have as much attention to creativity.

But hey!  Some friends pointed out, and rightfully so, that it's actually possible--and quite beneficial, some times--to have multiple works going at a time.  Stephen King (the other one) even mentioned that as a process for once you're done with a draft; you set it aside and go work on something else for a while, after which time you can come back to it with a clear head.  A friend said that Brandon Sanderson is known for having one book in writing and two others in editing phases.

Yes, but that's editing.

I'm sure the friend who said that is experienced enough to know the difference, but I'll 'splain it for everybody else.  Writing is like filming landscape from an airplane while you fly over it.  Sometimes you speed up to get past the boring parts, while sometimes you slow down and really take some time to examine features.  Sometimes you zoom down and fly close to interesting mountaintops or stream junctions, while other times you fly high over the plains that are just a repetitive bunch of repetition. 

Some of us are pantsers, and to us every flight is a new discovery, every turn of the curvature is a new landscape.  Some are outliners, and they've at least got stakes out in the major peaks and valleys to go by.  Some are like Robert Jordan (may he rest in peace) and set the altimeter on "treetop level" for the entire flight, while others are like George R.R. Martin and label every person they fly by with the chapter they'll kill them in.

Then you're done, the film is a wrap, and you fly back to do the dastardly editing.  For editing you're not creating any new footage; instead, you're speeding some up, slowing some down, and cutting some out.  Sure, you might add something, but it's not nearly the amount of what you've been taping.

There.  I've explained, and hopefully you've learned something, and I've gotten to imagine flying around.  Everybody's happy.

But seriously, writing is at its core a purely creative effort, while editing is the antithesis of that--a destructive effort at its cruelest, and a refining effort at its nicest.  It's a whole different activity.  It takes a whole different side of the brain, according to the people who study which parts of the brain we use for what.

When you write, then, you do what you need to in order for your brain to be free and creative.  For some, that's drinking.  Others have other techniques, to be sure, but that's what Hemingway meant with his quote.  Write drunk, so that your creativity can flow.  Edit sober, though, so that you can clearly see the work as it is for polishing or cutting as needed.

Write drunk, edit sober, then.


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