Monday, February 18, 2013

Editing Drunk

Photo of empty bottles found here
There's a piece of writing advice, commonly attributed to Ernest Hemingway, that goes: "Write drunk; edit sober." In other words, do what you can to get your words down, but go about polishing and perfecting them in an orderly and serious way.

It's not terrible advice, but I realized recently that I was going against it. Not because I was editing drunk, or writing sober (though there were a few times when I'd hit the wine a little harder than others). I was getting the bulk of my editing done when I was almost too tired to keep my eyes open. A couple of times, I fell asleep in the middle of editing, and woke up with evidence the cat had taken a stroll across my keyboard while I napped.

Tiredness isn't quite the same thing as being drunk, though apparently it's just as dangerous behind the wheel.  It does lead to a change in perspective, though. For me, it slows my thoughts down, makes me more suggestible, confuses me more easily, and my attention wanders.

In other words, it turns me into a low-comprehension reader who's unfamiliar with my story. Had I been polishing the story on a sentence level or checking for grammar errors, I would've made a greater effort to edit when I felt better. But, because I was looking for overall readability and whether I could understand the story, it was the next best thing to crawling into a stranger's head to read his or her mind while he or she read my story. Passages I hadn't connected stood out as needing better transitions. Character motivations I hadn't spelled out confused me, and so I had to stop and give more insight in the text. Weak metaphors didn't make as much sense as when I'd written them, and those sentences that made perfect sense when I put them down were ripe for deletion.

Had I waited to feel better before I worked on edits, I wouldn't have finished them until far more recently. I'm glad I didn't wait. I learned something. There are edit passes that require a certain level of sobriety. But sometimes, there's an advantage in reading something you've written while you're not at your best. It's not the same as reading it with fresh eyes, but it'll certainly lend a new perspective.

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