Sunday, February 14, 2016

What It Means to Write Drunk and Edit Sober

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! This photo is from a couple of weeks ago, celebrating 25 years with my valentine. Never imagined I'd find someone who is such a wonderful partner for me, or that we'd be together so long. Every day I give thanks for him.

This week's topic in the Bordello is how our personal vices actually aids in our writing.

I have a little trouble with the concept of a "vice." It's defined as immoral or wicked behavior. Coming from a Catholic background, I have plenty of voices in my head willing to chime in on what the Church views as immoral. And my Celtic pagan ancestors are happy with anything the priestly immigrants would have deemed wicked. Really, I regard my vices as those things I love to indulge in that are not so great for my health. Especially if I overindulge.

I have a terrible sweet tooth, I love to laze about in the sun and drinking alcohol is one of my greatest pleasures.

Seriously, I love to drink. I gave up beer years ago because it made me fat, but I love wine of all kinds, whiskey, vodka, brandy, champagne. Mmm... One of my favorite treats is a long lunch with plenty of wine. A martini finishes the day off perfectly. Fortunately those same Celtic ancestors blessed me with a strong constitution, but I do have to be careful not to overindulge.

But I do think it helps my writing.

That is to say, I never write drunk. Not that I wouldn't if I could, but I simply can't. The focus isn't there. A poet once told me that one beer makes the words flow and two dams them up for the duration. I've found that even one drink - say a glass of wine at lunch - means no words for me that afternoon.

People often quote Ernest Hemingway as having said, "Write drunk, edit sober." Apparently this is a misattribution. While he was famous for his drinking, Hemingway was also a morning writer and his family says he never wrote past the early hours and always drank later in the day. Which matches my own experience.

So why do I say this particular vice helps my writing?

I think what this advice is getting at - and it clearly resonates on some level or it wouldn't be passed around so much - is that drafting and revising require two different states of mind. People are sometimes surprised that I am organized about my schedule and word counts to the point of keeping Gantt charts, but that I don't pre-plot or outline in any way. This is because, for me, drafting uses a very different part of my consciousness than more critical-thinking activities like editing, revising or schedule-planning do.

Thus I very deliberately let go of those considerations when I'm writing. As much as possible. To my mind, this is much like letting myself enjoy drinking. I'm perfectly aware that my grandfather was an alcoholic who died of cirrhosis of the liver. The critical part of me keeps track of my consumption and whether it affects me in a negative way. But the other part, the hedonist in me, the part that loves the feel of a well-made glass in her hand, the flavor of good alcohol and the dreamy buzz of liquor - that's more my writing self.

I need both parts in equal measures.

Also, I'm teaching a webinar this week on Navigating the Lines of Consent in sex scenes. Should be big fun!


  1. Another saying to suit: "Booze for inspiration; caffeine for implementation."

    1. I nearly picked coffee as the vice, so I suppose that's spot on!

    2. KAK, that is the approach my loving bride used for most of her college papers. Worked for her.

    3. A wise woman, Kevin, no wonder you married her!