I’m writing and self-publishing a book in 13 weeks and sharing the experience for anyone doing or thinking of doing the same. This week: a major milestone, and my experience of combining drinking and writing.
Final word count, Tuesday night: 53,572
I FINISHED THE FIRST DRAFT!
Ten days later than scheduled when I started, I reached the delicious moment of printing out the first iteration of the book. There’s still a long way to go: I reckon 8,000 to 10,000 of those words need to come out. There’s a lot of repetition, and a lot of digressions, some of which help, and some that don’t.
Even though most editors I work with now work online using Microsoft Word’s ‘Track changes’ tools, I like to start with a physical copy. A few weeks ago I talked about Stephen King’s book, On Writing. One of my favourite bits is his advice on what to do when you finally reach this point. He suggests a total change of pace – “Go fishing, go kayaking, do a jigsaw puzzle.”
Jigsaw puzzle it is then. I spent most of yesterday putting together a painting of Padstow Harbour.
But here’s the best part:
“How long you let your book rest – sort of like bread dough between kneadings – is entirely up to you, but I think it should be a minimum of six weeks. During this time your manuscript will be safely shut away in a desk drawer, ageing and (one hopes) mellowing.”
I don’t have six weeks. I’ll be leaving it for about four days. But it’s a lovely image, with wonderful results:
“If you’ve never done it before, you’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange and often exhilarating experience. It’s yours, you’ll recognise it as yours, even be able to remember what tune was on the stereo when you wrote certain lines, and yet it will also be like reading the work of someone else, a soul-twin perhaps. This is the way it should be, the reason you waited. It’s always easier to kill someone else’s darlings than it is to kill your own.”
That phrase is King’s analogy for the hardest bit you will face if you write something book length: there will be a sentence or paragraph that you love, the best thing you’ve written. And it won’t belong in this book and you must cut it out. But that’s still to come…
To get to this point, I had to play with the famous quote in the title above. Like most great snappy quotes, it was never said by the person to whom it is commonly attributed. Ernest Hemingway was, if anything, a vocal opponent of trying to do good work while drunk.
But Hemingway wasn’t a drinks writer.
I’m not necessarily recommending writing drunk, but I thought it might be worth sharing my experiments and experience with it.
I normally write completely sober, in the mornings. But when I’m travelling, or covering beer events, my note-taking usually happens when I’m not. I wrote many of the notes for Three Sheets to the Wind while living up to the book’s title. It’s hilarious to go back through those old notebooks and see how my handwriting deteriorates as the day wears on:
The thing is, if you can decipher the writing, there’s some good stuff there. This went on to become one of my favourite passages in the book, because I managed to capture the giddy joy of closing down a bar in a strange city at 3am. Often, when we wake the next morning after a boozy night and can vaguely remember laughing till we were fit to burst, we know we had a good time but we assume whatever we are laughing at can’t really have been that funny – it was just because we were drunk. My experience of trying to record drunken nights revealed to me that when we are drunk, often we really are funnier – a lot of these notes made it into the final book, and it is without doubt the funniest of all my books.
That’s writing while drunk, as in, capturing the experience of drinking. But what about writing up your final draft? What about drinking as an accompaniment to writing, rather than the notes above, which are writing as an accompaniment to drinking?
The first thing to note is that the quote in the title falls into the common trap of treating drunk/sober as binary, when they are in fact two points tethering either end of a scale.
Think of inebriation as a graph, with the x axis as time and the y axis as some measure of how drunk you are. The path of inebriation follows a curve. One reason I’ve always loved beer is that it provides a gentler, more manageable curve than wine or spirits. I find that between one and three pints in, there’s a buzz of inebriation that seems to make the blood flow quicker and opens the synapses. Ideas flow more quickly, inspiration comes more easily. But I’m not drunk. Any more than three pints, and my typing becomes clumsy and my flow starts to become disjointed. It’s harder to focus. I rarely go beyond this point.
On Monday night, I did.
I hadn’t been happy with that day’s work. I was in bed with my eyes wide open, and I decided to get back up and do an experiment. I drank spirits and took the time to write very carefully and slowly, allowing the ideas to come but spending longer clearing up my typing than getting it down in the first place. I wrote till 4.30am.
The next morning, the few paragraphs I had were not nearly as good as I thought they had been when I wrote them. The flash of inspiration I thought I’d had was not nearly as bright as I’d believed. But there was something there, something that I hadn’t been able to reach while sober. More than that, I was in a different place in relation to the book than I had been the day before. Something from the night before had stayed with me. I wrote for the next ten hours straight, finished the first draft, and the last paragraphs I wrote are better than anything else in the book at the moment. Just as I had found my voice, I’d finished. But we still have the edit to go.
Apart from unlocking the inspiration I needed to finish, sometime around 4am I also had the idea to write this blog post. I’ll finish by transcribing the notes I left for myself, written in wonky capitals to ensure they would still be legible:
WRITE SOBER – IS THIS WORD WORKING HARD ENOUGH? IS THERE A BETTER WORD?
EDIT DRUNK – THERE IS NO EDIT DRUNK.
WRITE DRUNK – IS THIS WORD PLAYFUL ENOUGH? MIGHT THIS OTHER WORD TAKE ME SOMEWHERE I DIDN’T EXPECT?
EDIT SOBER – (I think I’m referring to the output of writing drunk here) RESULTS MIGHT BE BETTER THAN YOU THINK.
My new book Craft – An Argument: Why The Term ‘Craft Beer’ is Completely Undefinable, Hopelessly Misunderstood and Absolutely Essential, will be published in e-book, audiobook and print-on-demand formats globally on 25th June. The ebook is available for pre-order now. (Links in this post are to amazon.co.uk but the book is also available on your local Amazon site.)