Write Drunk. Edit Sober. Is That Right?

Apparently Wednesday comes a day late this week. Still sorting this new posting schedule. Glad you’re here.

Papa H famously said, “Write drunk. Edit sober.”

Just to be totally clear that I’m not advocating alcohol abuse, the point is that made by Gustave Flaubert in a letter to Gertrude Tennant (her daughter Dorothy married the explorer Henry Stanley.)

Flaubert wrote Soyez réglé dans votre vie et ordinaire comme un bourgeois, afin d’être violent et original dans vos œuvres.

Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.

solid old tree in the wild weather

There is a natural balance between order and chaos. You will have a certain amount of each in life, in your personality, in your art.

If you choose where you’re orderly, you have a better chance of choosing where to make use of chaos, abandon, unfettered emotion.

We’ve already talked a bit about emotional writing. It’s hard to let go of the emotional restraint we all practice day in and day out in order to fit into semi-polite society.

This is where knowing the difference between reality and imagination comes in handy. Yeah, that stuff you’re writing? It’s not real. Sure, it feels real. It’s based on stuff you know to be true.

But it’s not reality in any sense that matters.

This wild wet weather fills me with yearning to leap from the deck and scorch through the dripping leaves on the old elm and explode into the universe where I belong.

That’s not real, not in the sense a physicist, astronomer, meteorologist or botanist would see it.

It’s sure real to me, and I suspect that’s the best sentence in this post (other than Flaubert’s quote, which is hard to top.)

Write a sentence like that. You don’t have to post it here, you can keep it private, locked away in a drawer. But write it. Go look at something beautiful, or troubling, or quiet, and sit down and blurt out the first thing that comes from inside.

Write one single sentence from your heart, unedited. Bleed onto the page or screen without regard for the mess you’re making.

Unrestrained writing is, indeed, messy. Don’t worry; you can always clean it up later. Nobody else has to see it all sloppy and uncontrolled and revealing.

Just don’t polish it so much there’s nothing left to create a spark.

4 thoughts on “Write Drunk. Edit Sober. Is That Right?

  1. J, I’ve always admired both the Flaubert and Hemingway quotes, and have practiced them before, though I must say the best approach to editing my drunken writing would be to barbecue the pages. But it is an intriguing experiment to do the free writing you suggest. Let’s try a sentence at this very second:

    Hemingway and Flaubert wrestled with the bottle of absinthe, spilling some on Flaubert’s puffy sleeve, and drenching Hemingway’s hairy arm, with the rest gushing onto the café tabletop; the chastened authors then ordered a bottle each, and toasted freely through the night.

    Well, that came out in a place I didn’t expect when I wrote the first phrase, so that was fun.

  2. When I felt the mane of the wild stallion of recognition tickle the back of my neck, I knew that my co-author and I had arrived at the truth of the story.

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