“Write drunk, edit sober” – is there any truth in it?

At first thought it might seem like bad advice but there is some method to the madness of this old adage

The advice to “write drunk, edit sober” has long been attributed to the late American journalist and writer Ernest Hemingway, but whether he actually coined the phrase is still up for debate.
And while its origins remain a mystery so, too, (for most people) is whether there’s any truth in the ‘wisdom’ itself. At first thought it might seem like bad advice but there is some method to the madness of this old adage.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you boost your creative marketing efforts by getting smashed and sitting down to write your latest Mailchimp campaign, but there’s some merit to be found in enjoying a glass of wine while putting pen to paper (or fingers to keypad as is more likely the case).
Let me explain why. To be a truly good writer – and for your press release, ad or e-shot to flow – you need to relax: something which, believe or not, doesn’t come naturally to most of us when we try to write, especially in business.
As an editor, I come across stuffy writing day after day – even from the most successful PR and marketing firms. A large part of my job involves copyediting and taking out unnecessary and over-elaborate words and phrases such as “seeking” and “assisting” and replacing them with the likes of “looking for” and “helping” – words and phrases we use every day in conversation.
No one uses “seeking” and “assisting” naturally in conversation and (take it from a journalist) we really don’t need to use them in our writing.
My personal pet hate is “commented” at the beginning of a quote in a press release. People don’t comment, they say things. And, again, a large part of my job as an editor is to replace “commented” with “said”.
Another one I come across often is “in order to” – three words which are among the first to go when I’m editing a story for publication. They are perhaps three of the most unnecessary words you can use when drafting a press release. Nobody needs to use “in order to”. Ever.
But I wonder if the habit comes from our high school days when we often ‘over-wrote’ in exams to meet the required word count (and in the hope that the more we wrote, the more likely the right answer would be in there somewhere).
Whatever the reason, there’s definitely an inherent need for most of us to formalise written material. Yet, the easier things are to read, the more they are likely to hit home and create an impact.
But the fact remains that writing simply and conversationally doesn’t come easy. One of the first things I learned as a journalist is that it’s much more difficult to write for the likes of The Sun than it is to create dynamic copy for a traditional broadsheet such as The Times.
That might come as a surprise if you’re not newspaper savvy but yes, it takes far more skill to write in layman’s terms than it does to bash out big words straight from the dictionary.
The key thing to remember is that the average reading age of the UK population (and tabloid readers) is nine years old.
And the goal is really to get your message across in as few words as possible in case the reader shuts off or, even worse, the editor gets bored. You must also remember that a good editor will chop your story from the bottom if there’s not enough space on the page for the whole thing (and you’re lucky enough to have piqued his or her interest enough to warrant publication) so the ‘meat’ of your story must be in the first few lines and paragraphs.
This is where the wine comes in. The looser you can be when you sit down to write, the more naturally your content will flow. But never fire it off to print, your email database or business editor without sleeping on it and revisiting the piece the next day. Hence the “edit sober” part.
And it turns out there may actually be some science behind the “write drunk, edit sober” theory. Just take a look at this infographic from Australian editing and proofreading company The Expert Editor.
Happy writing!
Courtesy of: The Expert Editor
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