Write Drunk, Edit Sober

closeup of postcard that reads write drunk. Edit sober.

I found this postcard at The Strand in New York City. It struck a nerve for me. I tacked it on my bulletin board where all of my writing stuff goes, right next to the “No clichés, asshole!” note my writing instructor Janelle left in one of my margins. Prime spot on the board.

We all talk about finding our muse.

I have thought about this a lot since I started writing my novel.

The constant chatter in my brain is what stops my muse from showing up.

I am reminded of my college minor in Comparative Religion where I focused mostly on non-western religions. One of my favorite classes was called Mysticism, Shamanism, and Possession. I remember a lot of specifics from that class—the long wooden table we all sat at in the religion building on Main Street and the way the early winter sunset looked from the huge windows facing the green. I remember the professor and how he wore the tweed jacket with the suede patches at the elbows, no joke. I studied a lot about the ways we can feel the divine more intimately and vividly when our guards are down. For many cultures and religions this can be accomplished with mind-altering substances. For others it can be through pushing ourselves to physical limits. For others it can simply be found while sitting in silence and opening up our minds to the divine.

The suspension of disbelief is important in immersing yourself in another religion. It is the focal point for understanding and empathy. It allows us to stop the inner voices that sometimes say “Come ON! You really believe THAT?”

Understanding religion and the process of writing intertwine for me. There’s this faith in religion but you have to do the work to find it. You have to let down your guard and silence the shit that tells you you aren’t good enough or that you don’t have the time.

I’m working on a novel and there are moments when it feels too daunting to continue. I have a detailed outline. I have over 300 pages of a first draft. I have character sketches and complete scenes but trying to write something that will touch people feels impossible. When my kids are quiet for small moments after I get home from work and I start to write at my kitchen counter and the words don’t seem to be coming up to the surface I might be known to do a shot of Jameson. More often than not the words come. They’re not perfect or final but the muse shows up. This is not always the way I find the words flowing through me, but I do it sometimes. Ultimately, it is about letting my guard down and shutting everything else off.

If I can find a silent morning in my kitchen, when nobody is home and the windows are open to the breeze and the light is still below the treetops I can find it too, without the amber nudge. My point is that when the mind is quiet of the mundane shit the mystical can roam around in there and do stuff.

It is more than taking a drink, it is allowing freedom to take over, literally or figuratively, and feeling words flow through me and out onto the page.

The real and harder work is the revision. This is the part where I feel lost and scared that this thing will never be done and never be good. And again, to carry this metaphor along, it is sobering. It makes you sit up straight and focus and sharpen the edges that were blurred when sentences and pages were swirling from the lucid mind and into ink on paper. That part I have to do when I can focus and sit in quiet concentration.

That is not the time for Jameson, or children, or my kitchen counter.

It is the time to find a way to make the blood and bones of the story fill out with muscle and veins. It is less creative and less inspiring, some of the time it is downright debilitating. But it has to get done.

There is a huge wave of joy and accomplishment at getting a draft done and then there is a painstaking and depressing process of revision. That’s when all of the work seems useless and all of the hours I have spent creating this thing feels like a huge waste of time.

I feel like an idiot for thinking I can write a novel.

It might take years. This book is mine now though and these characters are mine and I feel as though they can’t rest until I have told their story. So I think it is okay if their story comes in fits and starts when my guard is down and my mind is loose. That is my process and it for sure may not be yours, but find a way to let go of the fear and grab ahold of the mystical.

Find the drunk-on-the-muse part. That part is my jam.

Revising is the sober part. The part that hurts and feels like shit. But I would never have a damn page of writing if I didn’t make myself do both.

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