A friend of mine has this quote oft attributed to Hemingway framed on her wall: “Write drunk. Edit sober.” While I’m not much use writing drunk and do most of my writing and editing sober (though the occasional glass of wine, can, of course, spark sheer brilliance at times), there is something to be said about the parts of our brain, our hearts, our spirits, everything that makes us, that get kicked into high gear during these seemingly contrasting components of the writing process: writing and editing.
When my writing is at its best, I am writing from the heart. I am expressing something universal that I’ve always known is there, and I am not thinking about it too hard. A meditation teacher in a group I attend was recently discussing the idea that the heart has a brain—how the heart, in essence, has thousands more neurons than the brain, and these neurons can sense, feel, and learn. As I am a science fiction writer and not a scientist, I often share pseudo-scientific information I find fascinating, so feel free to research this on your own and try to debunk it if you must—but the idea that the heart knows things, and even more, knows things innately that the brain would have to think hard about to understand, is something we’re all familiar with.
My writing is most enjoyable—and I believe most successful—when I’m not really thinking about it, when I’m writing from my heart and spirit.
In contrast, editing is an experience of the inferior head-brain, a left-brain exercise that can feel more like math than art. It is a labor of love, but make no mistake, it is labor. It may be different for you—I know some writers who love editing. For me, yes, there are moments of clarification, even wow moments within the editing process, but for the most part, it is Work. It is spending ten minutes wondering whether to leave in or remove a comma. It is moving a paragraph or chapter to a different spot, connecting the pieces, then moving it back again. It is realizing a character’s dialogue isn’t realistic, or that the character lacks the catalyst to perform the action they are doing. It is reading through your entire manuscript for the fifteenth time as the words on the page began to blur, it is tossing and turning in bed, it is solving plot problems in the shower, it is self-doubt, it is asking ‘why am I doing this?’
Is it, perhaps, because of love?
Yes, it is.
I love writing.
But I do not love editing. I edit because I love writing.
Writing gets me drunk on love, gets me into a heart space. It keeps me sober, keeps me wide-eyed, keeps me on my toes, keeps me learning.
So I put in the work. I put in the time.
It’s what we do for the things we love.