Plethora of Prose Peevishness

When I write, I do it Hemingway style. Sans alcohol, perhaps, but I still try to write as if I am drunk, then go back later and edit if it seems worth doing so. Actually, Hemingway never said to “Write drunk, edit sober”, though the internet loves to attribute that advice to him.

But let’s not get off on a tangent of chasing particulars.

I do think there is some hidden wisdom in the phrase, however, but you you have parse it out a bit to find the grains of truth.

First off, as a recovering alcoholic, I don’t endorse drinking and writing. Sure, I did my fair share of it before I cleaned up my act. Writing drunk rarely turns out very good, although it sound awesome while you are still under the influence and it just leads to issues with the rest of your life if you partake too often. And it’s often not very good when you’re sober. But one thing that does come out of such habits — killing the inner editor.

If there is anything that I find troubling, it’s how many writers seem to endorse wearing both the editor and writer hats on at the same time. It’s bound to lead to writer’s block if you try to be conscious of the editing process while you are writing, whether you worry about word choice, using a passive voice, avoiding adverbs or getting hung up about exposition.

Screw it. First drafts of anything shouldn’t have a wick of concern for these things — all of these problems are fixed in the subsequent editing process. When you are writing, it should be a very Zen-like process of letting the words flow out of you to tell the tale you are telling, almost forgetting what words you wrote just moments before as you let the story pour out of you. As soon as you begin to worry about actual presentation, you’ve just shackled yourself with unnecessary burdens in the writing process. And yet, the mantras, even when another writer sees draft work… “Show, don’t tell”, “Too many words ending in -ly”, “Your piece is too much in the passive voice”, etc.

The problem with all of these language fetishes is that none of them are true all of the time. In fact, go back a hundred years ago, and you’d find many of these “ineffective” styles were quite commonplace and popular. Nor does focusing on them actually end up in a finished product. Rules applied to the initial process of writing are barriers to getting the writing done.

Most writers I’ve met are a lazy kind of folk. You’d be hard-pressed to find any that want to go back and spend as much time (or more) in the revision process, the result of which is making a chaotic mess palatable to the general reader. Hell, I’m guilty of being lazy myself — which is part of why I iterate, returning to the same topics and themes until I am satisfied with the product rather than revise. But I’m also the kind of guy who plays three hours of The Last of Us 2 and restarts the game from the beginning because now I have a feel for the game mechanics and feel the second time playing the beginning will be more enjoyable for it.

So, in all our laziness, we start to edit what we write as we are writing it. Because: who wants to go back and labor over something already written? It’s done, let’s move on!

But I’d argue that you cannot be play both roles and be an effective writer.

Now, most people will go ahead with some kind of editing prior to releasing their writing to the wild, but I’m not one of those people. I have yet to do so on my most current version of my blogs, but in the past I have gone back and sculpted a ragged piece here and there into something that follows some rules a little better and then republished a before/after look at the product. In lieu of doing that here, I’ve done some “postmortem” evaluations pointing out the weaknesses and explaining things that should probably be included in the pieces themselves for clarity. I should probably do that with some of more recent pieces published in prep for NaNoWriMo, back when I was thinking I’d have the wherewithal to write a coherent novel this year (yeah, not likely to happen).

What I’m getting at is that, at least during NaNoWriMo, aspiring writers should forget all the rules and write with abandon, making beautiful, glorious, terrible mistakes during November, write as if they are drunk wordsmith masters, letting the words flow out of them like a giant river.

Then, when December comes around, take a deep breath, switch hats, and become the best damn editor you could ever be: slicing, dicing, leaving material on the cutting room floor, improving and refining until sometime next spring you have an awesome story that follows whatever rules you decide are necessary for it to be readable to your audience.

Screw wearing both hats in November. Or anytime, really.

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