Sounding genuine and authentic is one of the most important qualities of really good writing. It holds true whether you’re writing features for a fashion magazine, human interest pieces for the newspaper or a sales letter for a car lot’s special weekend sale.
When you can write genuinely, people find it easier to trust what you have to say. Your ideas become easier to believe, requiring less work on your part to convince the reader of your message.
Ernest Hemingway, in my opinion, had the most poignant strategy for achieving this quality in your writing when he said, “Write drunk; edit sober.” When we’re drunk, our inhibitions lower, our self-control whittles and whatever part of us censors the things that come out of our mouths melts away. We’re able to express our thoughts and ideas earnestly without the shackles of doubt.
Of course, Hemingway was particularly notable as a functioning drunk — one who managed to make sense of things enough that he can set them down on paper even while intoxicated. Not all of us are built like that, though. For many, in fact, getting drunk means falling asleep, blacking out and being ridiculously uncoordinated. When I drink even a beer while writing, for instance, my focus just flies off into unknown worlds. I could be writing one minute, remembering my childhood girlfriend the next, playing with the dog the one after that and then searching the internet for lewd pictures of Lady Gaga all within the span of five minutes. Yeah, drinking doesn’t serve me well.
Then again, I don’t think he meant for us to take that literally. If you can write without allowing your inhibitions to get in the way, then you’re writing just as “drunk” as Hemingway. All without the drooling, slobbering and other gross affectations of the latter.
Removing Inhibitions When You Write
The most important thing to writing “drunk” is to let the words flow. Your mind works in ways that’s not easy to comprehend and when you let it loose, it can surprise you with some amazing things.
Your conscious mind is a helpful friend. It allows you to make sense of things, perform feats of logic and set your focus intently. However, it’s also the censoring part of yourself. It’s the one that screams, “That sounds silly” after you finish a sentence. Or “that seems all wrong” when a new idea pops into your mind.
The trick to writing drunk is to quiet that conscious filtering mechanism. Either ignore it (putting down the thoughts that come, regardless of your self-feedback) or outrun it (by writing fast — so fast that your conscious mind can’t keep up). The latter of those two is the ideal one. It’s usually the strategy we employ when we freewrite or do stream-of-consciousness pieces, putting down whatever comes to mind with no regards to how well it suits guidelines or convention.
Why Writing Drunk Works
All writers persuade, not just those producing sales letters and argumentative papers. Even if you’re writing a romance novel, you’re still persuading the reader to buy into your premise, your characters and the events surrounding them. Writing a white paper? Yep, you’re persuading potential clients to buy into your solution. Writing the news? Well, you better hope people believe you’re reporting real events.
Writing produced in this “drunken state” is naturally persuasive. Think of a time when you hear a celebrity interviewed and they answer with this pre-rehearsed response that just feels fake and contrived. It doesn’t matter what they actually say — you just know that the answer is a load of bull. That’s what a lot of people’s writing sound like.
When writing sounds fake, you file it away in the same corner of your mindspace as press releases and news from the Onion. You know, things to be taken with a grain of salt. Sure, some it may be true, but most of it are probably just creative figures of speech. And you treat it as such.
“Drunk writing” is naturally persuasive because it feels authentic. It shows thoughts and ideas expressed freely, rather than filtered through a thousand preconceived notions of what good writing should be. The writer’s personality shines through, making it feel more genuine and personable.
This becomes particularly important when you write about a topic that you’re particularly enthusiastic and passionate about. The less you hold back and filter, the more of those positive feelings will carry over to the page as you express your thoughts. And most of the time, the writing we love most are the kinds that allow us to feel through the writer’s genuine enthusiasm.
The second part of the equation, of course, is equally as important. After giving yourself free reign to dump words as you please, you’ll need to sober up and engage that judgmental conscious mind to fix up the draft.
Yes, you’ll need to edit and revise the material. As awesome as the concept of expressing all your ideas freely sounds, it usually produces as much bad content as it does good ones. The editing phase gives you the chance to sort out the meat from the fat, removing those that don’t fall logically with the direction of the piece and polishing up the rough parts to conform to proper writing guidelines.
Can you edit while drunk (or whatever “drunk-like state” you need to get into to write freely)? Sure. But since your regard for convention and critical thought tend to go away in this state, it’s probably a bad idea. You want your conscious, logical and critical mind in full force during editing, as those are precisely the qualities that will help you work out the kinks in your current draft.
Will It Still Sound Genuine After Editing?
Chances are, it will. Personality has a way of sticking through even after major edits. The purpose of editing isn’t to kill the authenticity of what you’ve expressed. Instead, the goal is to ensure that the piece works as a whole, with parts that actually complement, rather than counteract, each other.