Lessons in writing with Uncles Ernie and Stevo

by SJ Griffin

Twice this weekend I’ve been asked how you write a book. Preceded by the words ‘I want to write a book’ as though it’s an accessible joy available to everyone. The nerve of some people. As my regular reader will know, I am kidding. I suspect any idiot can write a book if they are a thoughtful and enthusiastic idiot.

Hemingway said ‘write drunk, edit sober’. I don’t think he meant literally but with Ernie it’s easy to think that he did. I also guess it’s easy to drink a bottle of tequila, drool some short misspelt sentences on to a soggy beer mat and send random tweets to a literary agent. It’s possible he meant the same thing Stephen King meant when he said that you should write your first draft with the door closed and the rest with the door open. Not your front door, your study door. I don’t have a study, all my rooms are in one big room, so I would either have to leave the front door open or the bathroom door open. I have a thing about leaving the bathroom door open though, so it would have to be the front door. I’m not entirely comfortable with that either because I think of the front door as a protective barricade between me and all the strangers I do not want in my home. Just like the bathroom door and spiders. And squid. That’s a story for another time.

So, let’s picture it: we are drunk with the door closed writing furiously. We’re all giddy and merry and undisturbed. Then we are sober and the door is open and we are editing miserably. Why are we miserable? Because we have a terrible hangover and strange people keep harassing us. Also, we can now see that what we wrote drunk is no good because unicorns can’t perform surgery with their hooves, and their horn keeps getting caught in those funny, overhead light things. And we realise that JK Rowling already wrote more than enough words about wizards and unmagical people and, besides, calling them buggles isn’t going to fool anyone. The BDSM vampires we never mention again.

My point is, and well done for sticking with it this far, that it’s all very interesting reading about, or listening to, the ways other people write and what they think about it. But it’s only real value lies in way it gives you a chance to disagree and do it your own way. Charles Bukowski said that whenever he doubted what he was doing he would go and read another writer and it would make him feel better. I think the same is true of other people’s processes. After all, all the best writing is born of rebellion. I think Uncle Charlie told me that, or if he didn’t it was just because he forgot to. Drunk, I expect.