Write Drunk

Edit Sober

I can’t say I’ve read much of Bukowski, but I do like to quote him. Especially when the quotes aren’t even his to begin with. I suppose I like the idea of him — inspired, no doubt, by his various on-screen portrayals, or the things I’ve read about him.

“Write drunk, edit sober” is usually attributed to Hemingway. Doesn’t really matter to me — I’m certain both held it to be true. Anyway, I wrote that quote as the title, with Bukowski on my mind, and it got me to writing. Perhaps I should have been drunk. Regardless, I should really edit it. But I wasn’t, and I won’t.

What I take from the quote, besides the bit about being raw and honest, is to just do it, to hell with the consequences. A shot of courage is all some of us need to give that wedding speech, or ask that attractive person out, or help us do whatever makes us nervous. Many times the shot itself is purely symbolic. In writing, a blank page can be a dreadful thing indeed. Our own inhibitions can get the best of us. Instead of foregoing it altogether, have a few drinks.

Ballmer Peak

I see the same thing in software. There’s even something called the Ballmer Peak among developers. By reducing the fear of solving the problem — the fear of their own logical inadequacies — a couple of drinks can, so it is said, help the coder code.

I’ve often found that, when beginning a new software project, I get a better perspective by starting off with a framework or similar project as a base, a way to get my feet wet. A blank implementation file, just as a blank page, is daunting. Inevitably I’ll completely rewrite from scratch — and I know this when I start — but this digital scaffolding helps me keep my sanity, and gets me started.

I’ve seen this happen in other areas, too. When earning my SCUBA license years ago, I was given one math test at the surface and a similar test at 40m below. This was to test my proclivity for nitrogen narcosis. To the amusement of my instructor, I finished the math problem faster when deep below the surface. I suppose a bit of “the narc” calmed me, relieving insecurities I had about my own algebraic ability.

So, a wipeout, some Wite-Out, a few scrapes, a few sloppy lines, and maybe an empty wallet — we often just need to do whatever it takes to get us where our higher brain knows we should be. Sometimes that requires dumbing down the problem, and sometimes dumbing the brain itself.