“Write drunk; edit sober.”

A quote often attributed to Ernest Hemingway.

If you take the quote too literally, you’ll miss the power of what he was trying to teach.

Hemingway realized that we aren’t always the same person. We have at least two sides to us when it comes to creating something. Sometimes our brains see endless possibilities, where we feel we can create anything our minds conjure when hearing that whisper from our muse. And the muses are everywhere we look.

Other times, our brains are great at tearing down all the bullshit, and finding the kernels of what’s efficient. What’s practical. What’s actually good. And usually that brain doesn’t like what it sees of my other self’s work.

When I create, I try to take Hemingway’s advice.

To begin a new blog post, or even a new software feature, I’ll start when I feel I have a thread of something with tons of possibility. I start from a book I read that has me insanely motivated. Or a TED talk that has me inspired to teach all the things I’ve learned so far. Or I go for a run, and push myself just a little further than last time. Or a workout where I lift just a little more weight than the last workout.

I hype myself up to get closer to a place where anything is possible.

From there, I start throwing tons of stuff onto my canvas. I’ll write pages and pages of run on sentences and ideas. Or I’ll just start coding in a style that fits. Meaning, this might not be the best way to make this feature. Maybe the “right” way is going to have to entail using a more efficient backend, or some better asynchronous design with the latest Javascript MVC framework. But today, the goal is to get ideas on a page. This is a big reason I loathe using Test Driven Development, when I’m trying to create something that requires me to be at my most creative.

Eventually, I’ll take a break. I’ll get a solid night’s rest. I’ll switch modes.

And I start to edit.

I take all these things and pare them down. I tear apart paragraphs, move them around, throw them away. What you see as 500 words today, probably started with 1200.

The software you might see tomorrow is the result of two dozen versions only my wife had the misfortune of having to use.

One thing I’ve noticed about editing, is that I know I’m getting closer to something decent, when the editing starts to hurt. When it feels like as I’m cutting, I’m starting to cut bone.

I start to throw away the things that I had perviously considered as good, in order to make room for what’s sitting on the canvas now.

When I remove that anecdote that I was originally convinced HAD to be there. Or I realize no one is going to need this feature after all, even if it was the thing that had me the most excited to start.

At the end of my creative projects today, I realize my best work comes when I can create a balance between my two selves. When I can find the person inside me who can do anything, and the person whose the strongest critic of all.

When I find a way to invite both of those people inside me so they each get their share of a project, but I don’t actually let them work together at the same time.

That’s when things start to get really good.

P.S. You can get my next post: here.


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