Writing Advice: Write Drunk. Edit Sober.

Today’s title is from a quotation attributed to Ernest Hemingway, who certainly knew about writing, editing, and drinking. Now, the Jolly Librarian does not condone drunkenness. Drunk people are usually loud and find themselves much funnier and interesting than they are. (Especially those drunk folks who sit in front of me at Snow Patrol concerts. But that is another blog entry.)

Although I’m not advising anyone to get drunk, there is wisdom in Hemingway’s idea. Writing and editing are two entirely different processes and need to be performed as such. A mistake many beginning writers make is to finish a draft and think that the paper is done.

But it’s not. Let me give you an example. Last night, I took a story to writing group. I wouldn’t say that this story is a first draft since I’ve written it two or three times, mostly with different protagonists. I’ve made other changes along the way as well.

Anyway, I started reading the story aloud to the group. About a page in, I thought, “This is not sounding as it did in my head. It’s very clunky.”

Halfway through, I was wondering if I could fake some sort of fainting spell so that I wouldn’t have to finish this awful entity I’d thought was fairly decent a few hours before. I’d made a rookie mistake. I tried to skip some steps in the process. And I had mistaken my draft for something finished when it wasn’t anywhere close to done.

When working on a paper for a class, there is simply no substitute for getting your draft done a week or so before the due date. Give yourself a day to let the exhilaration of finishing pass by.

Then, soberly, take it out again. And read it. Mark places where it sounds awkward or clunky. Mark where you don’t explain your source material very well. Mark where your source material doesn’t support your ideas as well as it should. Make all the changes.

The next day, read it out loud. You’ll find even more places that are chunky, awkward, and not well-supported. Make those changes.

Then read it out loud again, maybe to a friend this time (one who will be honest with you). And believe it or not, you’ll still find weaknesses.

Keep doing this until the day before your paper is due. Then do one final edit. Check your spelling, grammar, and citations.

Beginning writers, I know you think this process sounds like too much unnecessary work. But try it. You’ll be impressed with the final result.



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