Reading & Writing

Writing Exercise: Write Drunk, Edit Sober


Do you ever follow Hemingway’s famous advice, “Write drunk, edit sober?”

I’ve never had great luck writing drunk. Alcohol used to make me write these crazy, horrible poems–the kind of stuff you might’ve written in seventh grade–and then email them to an old friend who found them highly amusing.

Only once have I written anything under the influence that I later considered worth editing: a section of a story in which the character had been drinking. It was like method acting. The character had some hilariously twisted thoughts that I don’t know if I could have written sober. Interesting thoughts. Uninhibited thoughts, I suppose.

So maybe it’s worth a try, huh? Let me know if you like it.


2 thoughts on “Writing Exercise: Write Drunk, Edit Sober”

  1. A little context: this is from a young adult novel I’m working on, and I’ll admit that in the editing I cut a few things that wouldn’t be appropriate for young adults… Because I edited sober, of course. Anyway, writing this section after a few glasses of wine actually helped me access this character in a way I hadn’t been able to before. She’s sixteen, her mother just went to prison and she moved in with her cousin (Ellen)’s family a little over twenty-four hours before this scene begins.

    Ellen seems completely baffled by everything and I’ll admit, that’s part of the fun. I wish I could somehow photograph her without her noticing: scowling at the llamas, suffocating on Noah’s cologne in the minivan, raising her right eyebrow at the Gatorade vat full of punch and the red plastic cup I give her.
    “You want me to drink this?”
    “Or chemically deduce its contents. Either way.”
    Her laugh: I’d definitely want a photo of that. It would fetch money on the black market. Rarer than Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster combined. Or so it seems after downing a cup and a half of what turns out to be mostly rum. Or partly rum. I’m no expert on drinking, but I’m definitely tipsy and I definitely taste rum.
    So. I’m relaxed. I’ve got Hannah. I’ve got her friend Uhura, which I thought was a beautiful African name until Ellen said, “Right! Nichelle Nichols!” and I realized her name is actually Nichelle and got the reference and then we both laughed for about a minute until I realized I might be horribly racist but probably not and at least I’m not a Trekkie, though maybe I should be because everyone’s talking to Ellen now and why is she not drinking and how did she end up the way she is when I’m the way I am and which way is better?
    The world may never know.
    “What’s that from?” I say to Ellen. I say it about three times before realizing that everything else was in my head. And of course, once I fill her in, she knows the answer right away. It’s from an old Tootsie Pop commercial. How many licks to the center? The world may never know.
    “Dirty,” says Hannah, laughing. I forgot she was there. It’s so strange that someone like Hannah and someone like Ellen can exist in the same universe. Of course, I might not know anything about Ellen. She might have come to this party without me. She might be prom queen this year. If that greaser in the leather jacket likes her (which he clearly does—that smile was not platonic), then who knows who she is? Who knows who I am? Who knows anything?
    I know I’m not thinking about anything in particular. I know I’m laughing. At everything. Whether it was meant to be funny or not. I’m just laughing.
    “You might want to slow down,” Hannah says and of course I have no idea what she’s talking about until she takes my cup away and brings it back filled with water. She’s so sensible. I wouldn’t have guessed. Then again, how many hours have I known her?
    Everybody’s talking and laughing. I love it. Even though I have no idea who or what they’re talking about, I love it. I sit back, rehydrating and listening to everyone all at once, not just the six or seven people surrounding me but the people beyond them, kids I’ve never met, kids I never will meet—no matter what they’re talking about, it feeds me.
    Until I hear a familiar voice. And, true, no voice should be familiar to me after one day at the school, but I have a very good ear when I’m interested. It’s the boy who like’s Ellen. That beautiful boy, with the jaw and the hair and the eyebrows and the very questionable taste.
    He’s coming over here. Of course he is—Ellen’s here. He says hi to Hannah and Uhura and the rest of them, but then he puts his hand on Ellen’s back and takes her away, so they disappear into the crowd.
    I wish there was a band playing. I wish I could sing. I’m good at singing, and I want to do something I’m good at. I want people to look at me, damn it. I want Ellen’s boyfriend to look at me.
    I hear the tinny edge of music pouring from an old iPod somewhere, and I follow it. I skim through the iPod’s contents until I find something I like, which is difficult in this swamp of Top 40 megahits, but there’s a little old school No Doubt which is marginally okay so I put on “Just a Girl” and crank the volume to eleven. I take my cup full of water, down it, and hand it to some pit-stained boy walking by, who will bring me a refill. I stand up on the coffee table, wishing I were wearing a short skirt instead of these stupid jeans. I wish my hair were up so I could let it down. I wish my shirt showed a little cleavage.
    The party is loud, but I’ve got pipes. Still, I start out quiet. The people around me start looking, a few of them whipping out their cell phones to film it, as if anticipating my humiliation. But it is not humiliating. It’s kind of fantastic, really. And maybe by happenstance, maybe by fate, my eyes sweep over the staircase just as Grayson and Ellen ascend it, just as Grayson looks my way, and our eyes meet, and he smiles.
    Still, he’s taking Ellen upstairs. Not that she has any idea what that might mean—but I don’t know him. Maybe they’re looking for a quiet place to talk about particle physics. Whatever they’re doing, Ellen is a big girl. And now there’s a clump of kids around me, and some idiot has to yell “Freebird!” though I doubt he knows what that is but I know every word and I think I saw it scrolling through the song list, so here we go.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s