How do you start writing? For a lot of people, staring at a blank screen is terrifying, even paralyzing. Most people would rather do just about anything but write, it seems. This is a phenomenon that author Stephen King has noted about writing: “The scariest moment is always just before you start.” As a result, during my many years in the workplace I have seen that once you’ve been identified as “a writer” or even “a very good writer” (cue Rainman imitation), you suddenly become like Mikey in the old Life cereal commercials: “Give it to John. He writes anything.” In fact, I often refer to one of my employers as a place filled with editors, not writers. Guess who I was. Yep — no one but me, it seemed, wanted to write the first draft, the “rough” draft.
Fast forward to last week, when I was reading one of my guilty pleasures (Entertainment Weekly magazine). I was skimming over the Books section (yes, EW does have one) and I saw a sidebar on Chelsea Handler. I don’t enjoy or really care about her writing, but my eye was caught by a quotebox that said, “Write drunk. Edit sober.” This apparently has been attributed to Ernest Hemingway, not surprisingly. It was the first time I’d seen that quote, and it intrigued me. I wondered whether if it is the loss of inhibition that makes it easier to write? If old Ernie was right, people need some courage in a bottle to write, or at least be a little creative, I guess. But apparently, the booze is only a part of the process of writing well because even he acknowledged that the significant and much underappreciated skill of editing must be done with a clear head. Then again, there is that well known side effect of alcohol, that overarching, foggy narcissism, when anything and everything we do just seems better than the rest.
In case you’re wondering, I’m writing this while quite sober, but I have promised myself a drink after I’m done. So, maybe writing is really all about motivation, like most things in life. But to get a little more philosophical for a minute, I like to write because what I produce has an aspect of permanence to it. I like the idea that something I’ve done might survive long after I’m gone, if not from this world, at least from people’s thoughts. I doubt I’m the only one to ever feel this way. We remember the things that we’ve written or read that mean something to us. We share good writing with others. We can even “like” it on Facebook.
So, I’m not sure I really understand those people who avoid writing like the plague. Given all this, who wouldn’t want to write? Right? But, in the end, I think this quote from Dorothy Parker sums up best the frustration and satisfaction that is writing: “I hate writing, I love having written.”
Time for a drink.