I’ve got a confession to make. I’ve never read anything by Ernest Hemingway. I know I should have. I even remember holding For Whom the Bell Tolls in my pudgy eleven-year-old hands in Broadstairs Library and thinking it was the best book title in the history of book titles (I took the book out from the library; I can’t even remember if I got past the first page). Anyway, I’m hoping to get past my Ernest Hemingway block soon. Promise.
However, there are two things I do know about Ernest Hemingway:
- He wrote standing up.
- He said: Write drunk, edit sober.
The first point is excellent advice and should be taken literally. The second I love, but I take it as metaphorical advice. He was a legendary drinker, and it’s safe to say if Mr H and I had ever chilled out together in the humid air of a Key West bar with rotor-fan beating above our heads, he would have drunk me under the table in the time it took for us to discuss why I’d never got round to reading one of his splendid books. But I absolutely agree with the spirit of write drunk, edit sober. I’m going to take it as: you should write as if you’re absolutely free. Free from judgement, free from the eyes of the world, free from inhibition.
This is in my mind at the moment because – having finished my second book – I’m writing the very first draft of something, and it feels new and precious. It needs lots of energy and lots of joy. And when I’m writing, when I’m walking down the streets of an eighteenth-century world which is utterly foreign to my twenty-first-century experience, it’s a heady, energy soaked feeling. We’re getting a bit drunk together, eighteenth-century London and I. We’re falling in love.
Then, at some point soon, I will have to sit down with my story and assess our future: clear-eyed, in the cold winter light. And all of those sweetly laid-down, bubbling words with all their bright, shining energy, will have to be edited and sculpted, and whole swathes of them will disappear for good – because, well, that’s the way it has to be.
But for now, I’m just enjoying the intoxication of it. And I’m sure Mr Hemingway would raise his glass to that.