Write Drunk, Edit Sober, BREAK RULES

This is not what that phrase means.
This is not what the phrase “write drunk, edit sober” means.

A story with all the rules followed and no heart is just a jumble of words that no one will want to read.

(We recently discussed finding your voice HERE)

Still, we must communicate properly.

It’s a balancing act.

I write with abandon (that’s what “write drunk” means), and I don’t care if nobody but me understands a damned word. I’ll even make up words (Hey, Shakespeare did).

That said, too often I might be the only one who knows what the hell I meant by what I said. So I come back and re-read it (that’s what “edit sober” means), to ensure I’m communicating properly.

Well, maybe that last one...
I can do that. I’m sober.

This stems from a piece of advice a boss gave me when we had to write technical reports: write as though a completely disinterested 3rd party is picking this up. To that, I added: and take them from point A to wherever you are in your knowledge. If that is in your head at the outset, you are aware that in a scene with three characters talking where two of them are women, things can get confusing if we don’t frequently point out which specific “she” is talking.

Eliminating confusion can cause the story to become mundane, though!

BALANCE is the skill we employ to keep our stories well-paced and moving.

SUBTLETY makes balance work. You can’t say Sarah 10 times in three paragraphs, just so we know it’s not Michelle. But you have to clarify who’s talking. Be sneaky about it. (See ways to write better dialog HERE, HERE and HERE.)

Your story when you try to please everyone.
Your story when you try to please everyone.

The fastest way to ruin your story is to try to please all your masters. Please one. Find a target and write to that muse, reader, nondescript high school friend, fantasy lover, yourself, your sons, whoever.

(We have talked about writing to your muse, HERE)

Take editing advice after the story/chapter/whatever has been written. I break my critique partners down into percentages of what I will follow from their advice.

Yep, they're the cool kids.
Yep, they’re the cool kids.

GROUP A: 100% = they totally “get” me, my writing, and my intent, pretty much all the time. We’re FB friends outside of the critique group and would probably go out for a beer if we lived anywhere near each other. If they come to Florida, I expect a call. I will usually incorporate every suggestion they make. There are maybe 4 people in this group. The sub-tier of this is a 80%-90% group who are almost as good. There are about 2 people in the sub-group.

GROUP B: they are technically proficient and are good at catching missing commas or misspelled words, but their stories SUCK and I cannot take story advice from a writer who can’t write a good story. Neither should you. Sorry, that’s how it is. I use their typo notes and will consider other stuff but I skim over about 70% of their suggestions.

I have no idea what he means.
I have no idea what he means.

GROUP C has two categories

C1 – fucking idiots.

C2 – bigger fucking idiots

(Are we allowed to swear here?) Needless to say, I like that these nice people follow my story but I don’t care what they think at all as far as writing suggestions. Their suggestions suck and I am not changing a word of what I wrote for them. They are basically fans, so I want them happy (as readers) but they don’t do the writing, I do. Sadly, they are 75% of the critiques I get, but if I do my job correctly, they will never know it and I’ll make many very helpful suggestions to their stories that will go completely unheeded because they’re fucking idiots and they don’t get it. So it works both ways.

You have to put yourself out there was a writer and the rules are a big fat fence designed to keep things safe. Great writing isn’t safe. It’s a wild animal that will tear open the reader. But that animal still has eyes and a heart and a brain – and will bleed if cut. Those are rules, too. A wild animal lives by ITS rules, not by ALL rules.

Know the rules and break them, but tell YOUR story, not the story of the rulemakers.

Most rulemakers couldn’t write a decent story to save their lives.

Don’t let them ruin yours.


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your humble host
your humble host

Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi” – yeah, we know. We’re trying to convince him to change that title – check out his other works here http://www.amazon.com/Dan-Alatorre/e/B00EUX7HEU/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1425128559&sr=1-1 and check back often for interesting stuff.

Published by Dan Alatorre AUTHOR

International bestselling author Dan Alatorre has 17 titles published in over a dozen languages. From Romance in Poggibonsi to action and adventure in the sci-fi thriller The Navigators, to comedies like Night Of The Colonoscopy: A Horror Story (Sort Of) and the heartwarming and humorous anecdotes about parenting in the popular Savvy Stories series, his knack for surprising audiences and making you laugh or cry - or hang onto the edge of your seat - has been enjoyed by audiences around the world. And you are guaranteed to get a page turner every time. “That’s my style,” Dan says. “Grab you on page one and then send you on a roller coaster ride, regardless of the story or genre.” Readers agree, making his string of #1 bestsellers popular across the globe. He will make you chuckle or shed tears, sometimes on the same page. His novels always contain twists and turns, and his nonfiction will stay in your heart forever. Dan resides in the Tampa area with his wife and daughter. You can find him blogging away almost every day on www.DanAlatorre or watch his hilarious YouTube show every week Writers Off Task With Friends. Dan’s marketing book 25 eBook Marketing Tips You Wish You Knew has been a valuable tool for new authors (it’s free if you subscribe to his newsletter) and his dedication to helping other authors is evident in his helpful blog.

38 thoughts on “Write Drunk, Edit Sober, BREAK RULES

  1. Jenny Allen on August 3, 2015 at 1:15 pm said: Edit

    I’d like to add, Dan, that your “voice” is one of the most distinctive I’ve read. While I read your work, It’s almost like you’re speaking to me. That voice is half the appeal of your stories.

    –“You have to put your self out there was a writer and the rules are a big fat fence designed to keep things safe. Great writing isn’t safe. It’s a wild animal that will tear open the reader. But that animal still has eyes and a heart and a brain – and will bleed if cut. Those are rules, too. A wild animal lives by ITS rules, not by ALL rules.”

    This is now one of my favorite bits of writing advice. So glad you posted it.

  2. I had to laugh at your break down. I disagree about group B. There are a ton of editors out there who can’t write books, but are great at critiquing them. To me, it’s the same as coaches. They could never play the game, but they understand it enough to give advice.
    Of course we all know a few people from group C. Ha!

    1. That’s true, it’s just not my preference. I always had more respect for coaches who’d played. It may be a limiting factor in me, too! But I respect other people’s decisions.

      And, yeah, group C, happily plodding along…

  3. This may be part of my problem – one of the reasons I write so slowly.

    I think I try to write what would really be a cleaned-up second or third draft on my first pass. Lately I’ve been trying to just let my jumbled thoughts spill onto the page (or write drunk, as you put it) then clean them up, but I haven’t mastered the process yet…

    1. CJ, first of all, slow is relative. None of us does something quickly and with precision the first time; it’s only with repetition and encouragement that we speed up.

      Your style is to make something very good when you first show it to anyone. That’s what works for you, and the result has been very good writing. In fact, we should share some of it here sometime. But if your first draft is the equivalent to my third draft – if I pretend for a moment that I even do a second draft – the where’s the harm?

      Speed may be relative but maybe my distractions are less, too. That all plays a role. Plus, I’m arrogant as hell. I think everything that falls from my fingertips is pure gold most of the time. It’s only after I wait a while and review it with fresh eyes that I see what crap it truly often is.

      Okay, I’m kidding. I don’t believe that about any of my stuff. But you get the idea.

      1. Wait… You have a big ego? Huh, I never noticed. LOL 😉 (awww… you know I’m just teasing)

        But, wow… I would love to share my writing! 😊 That would be awesome!

  4. You both are excellent and I enjoy each of you and your writing for different reasons. Oh no, Fans, Fans, Dan’s head is stuck in the drawer, not the door. LOL. Please keep me laughing you two!! Night.

  5. I enjoy both of your musings for different reasons. I like the styles and the quality you both produce. Oh no. Dan, your head is stuck in the drawer, not the door.

    Have fun this evening, friends.

  6. I did my best computer programming (computer science major) in college while drunk off my ass. When I sobered up after my sophomore year, my straight “A’s” took a major hit. Had let myself become an alcoholic!

    Happily sober now, but the urge for a drink returns quite frequently. Can not drink now due to the medications I am on now. Bummer! I miss drinking straight Bacardi Rum on an empty stomach. College life left you eating whatever crap you could scrounge up for a meal.

    So all my musings now come as completely sober. That makes my writings scarier, because I have actually lived what I write about! Not scared of blood, unless it comes from my husband. Then I tend to freak out! Dealt with blood all the time on the farm where I grew up.

    Actually got my first networking job because I was experienced with handling birth (was cows, not human) without getting sick! The lady I was supposed to keep an eye on ended up becoming a good friend. She was not thrilled later down the road, when she found out why I was chosen for the job. Her son was successfully delivered in a hospital. Learned a lot from that employment site. Lead my to work as a network engineer for major fortune 500 companies all over the United States of America. Want to talk about a bunch of drunks! The people I used to work with handed in bar tabs with their expense reports.

    I miss drinking!

  7. Dan, re the impossibility of pleasing everyone, here’s an old tale you may know:
    “The Man, The Boy, And The Donkey”

    A Man and his son went to market with their Donkey. As they were walking a countryman passed and said: “You fools, what is a Donkey good for but riding?”

    So the Man put the Boy on the Donkey. Soon they passed a group of men and one said: “See that lazy Boy, he lets his father walk while he rides.”

    So the Man ordered his Boy to get off, and got on himself. Then they passed two women, one of whom said to the other: “Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son march along.”

    The Man didn’t know what to do, so he placed his Boy up before him on the Donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and passers-by jeered and pointed at them. The Man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at. The men said: “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey with you and your large son?”

    The Man and Boy got down and didn’t know what to do. They thought and thought, until they cut down a pole, tied the donkey’s feet to it, and raised the pole with the donkey to their shoulders. They went on in the middle of the laughter of everyone who met them until they came to Market Bridge, when the Donkey, wiggling and moving around, caused the Boy to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle the Donkey fell over the bridge into the water and drowned.

    “That will teach you,” said an old man who had followed them: “Please all, and you will please none!”

    Moral of the story is: trying to please everyone is impossible, and will result in failure to please anyone at all (especially yourself). If you have any experience blogging or writing on EP, you’ve probably had both glowing praise and unflattering criticism for the exact same posting. People don’t always agree (parents, friends, society at large) and if you try to live up to all their expectations, you’ll end up feeling miserable because you’re not living the life you want to while making others unhappy anyway.”
    Ellie here. This tale is variously attributed to the Talmud, or Aesop, or some other folk-tale source, but I found it at: http://www.experienceproject.com/stories/Am-Through-With-Trying-To-Please-Everyone/1214451.

  8. Thanks for this post Dan, I get it, totally. I love that drunk writing feeling, getting completely carried away, writing what I think without boundaries. Redrafting leaves me bemused at some of the things I write, but I can often use some of it, whereas if I hadn’t written it in the first place, I would lose the adventurous dimension it adds. I miss out on the fun of editor feedback at the moment because I am still self published, but maybe one day, though I would probably end up with a C2!

  9. If the whole point of writing is to get some idea or story understood by another, then after wildly tossing thoughts down, a critical eye and ear is necessary…otherwise you had some mental /emotional exercise but the piece/concept is not in a form that can relay your message. All depends on your goal for writing.
    Good post.

    1. And that has happened! I’ve had to bail on some avant garde semi-poem because I had NO CLUE what it was about – and therefore could offer very little in the way of a critique. I sent my apologies to the author; he wasn’t pleased. Like Baskin Robins makes 30+ flavors and cars are by Ford or Chevy or Toyota, there are different flavors of writing and each is not for everyone.

      But I have to ask, if I can’t figure out what the hell you’re saying, maybe you took “write drunk” a little far.

  10. I love this post and the clarification of that quote! I really need to work on the writing with abandon thing. I’m very guilty of getting caught up in details and then I just don’t write at all… Also, thank you for following my blog! Just followed yours too! 😊

    1. “I really need to work on the writing with abandon thing.”

      One time I had such a great idea, I couldn’t get to the computer fast enough. I’m a shitty – SHITTY – typist (ask anybody who has ever texted with me or FB chatted, the laughs are mostly unintentional) and I can’t slow down for punctuation most of the time. I only do it here to be polite and because CJ gets after me if I don’t.

      Anyway, I was just STREAMING the idea and it was FLOWING and I couldn’t worry about words because it was the idea that was important, and it was so delicate and so fleeting that I just had to RUSH, words be damned!

      I was just letting it go, and if I couldn’t think of a word I just made one up.

      It took about two minutes, but when I stopped and looked at it, I had to quickly translate the jibberish or even I wouldn’t know what the hell I wrote.

      The made-up words stayed, though.

      Think about Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society. He has Todd Anderson, the shy kid who never wants to speak in class, get up and do an essay in front of the room after Todd worked all day on it and threw his efforts away. Keating, Williams’ character, said “Mr. Anderson thinks there’s nothing worthwhile inside of him.”

      He makes Todd get up and look at a picture of Walt Whitman that Keating had pinned over the chalkboard and just free flow his stream of consciousness. At first Todd stammers and can’t do it but Todd is nothing if not obedient so he acquiesces to his teacher and begins, with much pushing from Keating, to describe what he sees.

      At one point the words “sweaty-toothed madman” come out of his mouth – and the class laughs – but Keating knows the light has come on.

      Todd digs deep and delivers a poignant verse – to the applause of a stunned classroom.

      “Don’t you forget this,” Keating says afterwards.

      And THAT is what it’s about.

      We all have it. Sometimes we can’t get it out, but don’t let anybody tell you you can’t do it.

      1. Thank you! And what an awesome thing to say! Also, love both your examples. Dead Poets Society is one of my all time favorite movies. Time to watch it again! Also, thank you for stopping by my blog and liking my post!

  11. People ask why I often refer to movies when I talk about books. Here’s why:

    If a million people read a book, it’s a runaway best seller.
    If only a million people see a movie, it’s a flop.

    Movies reach a much larger audience than books, so it’s a more common point of reference.

  12. Interesting perspective on writing, that.

    “Write drunk, edit sober,” was Hemingway’s mantra, and he was a pro at the first part without typing anything. I stutter when I write but it goes with the territory, as most of my writing is technical and tied to my profession. No, I’m not a lawyer, I’m a whore, and I’m required to write with clarity and precision – otherwise a lawyer comes knocking.

    The choice of words, spelling, grammar and punctuation rule in my book (that I haven’t written) followed by rhythm, and rhythm allows you to break The Rules. Like here.

    The brilliance of a sloppy writer, especially on a blog or in other social media, gets mental demerits from readers for unnecessarily emptying a box of apostrophes into his/her/its non-capitalized screed. Although the points may be valid, they’re spayed/neutered by the appearance of the first usage of the letter u as a proper noun. Typo happens, but that’s not what I’m referring to.

    Hope that helps.
    Rock on.


    1. P.S. I said that I’m a whore, but I don’t mean that in the literal sense.
      I follow the Whore’s Rule, that one’s services are more valuable before they’re performed than afterwards. If you can’t get paid, you’re just a slut.

      1. Thanks for clarifying. I think most writers who aren’t get getting paid for their efforts prefer to think of themselves as the guy at the deli counter offering free cheese samples so you’ll like it and buy some. Or drug dealers, giving away some crack until you’re hooked. Which, oddly, might be seen as less unacceptable than prostitution cos we hope to not get screwed in the process…

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