Phrases that need some clarification

First Posted: 11:07 am - August 11th, 2015

Ben There, Done That - Ben Hohenstatt

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I get paid to put words on a page, and that’s pretty cool. However, being a writer by trade means being subjected to regurgitation’s of trite quips about the creative process.

Generally, they’re pretty innocuous, but there are two well-known adages pertaining to writing that really get under my skin. One is a made-up quote and all around terrible advice, and the other was a sardonic joke misinterpreted as melodramatic blubbering.

The worst offender is well-known advice supposedly dispensed by Ernest Hemingway. “Write drunk, edit sober,” is certainly a punchy thing to cross-stitch on a throw pillow, but it is devastatingly bad advice, and, of course, a distribution.

Hemingway never said “Write drunk, edit sober,” and according to his granddaughter, Mariel, he was not a practitioner of drunken writing.

In fact, it’s likely writing was one of the only activities the man many knew as Papa combined with sobriety, as he would wake before sunrise to compose.

However, had Hemingway actually said this, it’s still amazingly terrible advice. If Herman Melville told me to write in lurid detail about whales, it’d be difficult to ignore the success of Moby Dick, but I still wouldn’t adhere to his instruction. Sure bizarrely detailed whale writing worked for him, but it doesn’t make it a universally great idea, and it’d probably result in unreadable disaster for most people.

No one would have ever seriously suggested Hemingway’s crippling alcoholism was anything other than an albatross, which caused unpredictable behavior and drove a wedge between him and many of his friends. A spiral of self-destruction and addiction was an obstacle to overcome, not the source of Hemingway’s prowess.

Furthermore, the quote hints that imbibing somehow opens the floodgates to creativity and allows access to the full spectrum of expression. That line of thinking almost seems worthwhile, but the bulk of Hemingway’s work was regarding a thinly veiled surrogate named Nick Adams experiencing things Hemingway had already experienced.

“Write drunk, edit sober” is ultimately dubious advice incorrectly attributed to an author who almost certainly did not practice what he never preached. It should never be said earnestly (word play!), no matter how great it looks in vinyl letters on the side of a mason jar cup.

Another common quotation, which is absolute garbage, actually has a verifiable source.

“Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed” was said by sports columnist Red Smith. Smith won a Pulitzer Prize and the Associated Press award for outstanding contributions to sports journalism is named for Smith. Smith’s bonafides are beyond reproach, but this quote is often incorrectly deployed.

The quote is usually used to establish the necessity for injecting ones very vitality into their craft for a hope of establishing a fleeting connection. It also makes writing sound difficult and stuff.

What’s often overlooked is this quote is fairly tongue-in-cheek. Smith wrote a daily column, so it’s likely writing was more akin to taking off a Band-Aid than gory suicide.

Smith also once employed the phrase when discussing the most challenging aspect of writing a daily column.

Of course an opinion piece is inherently loaded with its author’s opinion, so being unafraid to inject personality and a bit of exaggerated, sarcastic banter has become a go-to phrase for anyone who wants to convince someone writing is personal and raw expression.

In reality, professional writing is just like any other profession. Some days you feel motivated to work, some days you don’t, but you do your job either way.

Personally, I would save vein-opening comparisons to sitting through protracted executive sessions instead of writing.


Ben There, Done That

Ben Hohenstatt

Ben Hohenstatt is a staff writer for The Herald Independent and can be reached at bhohenstatt@civitasmedia.com. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.


Ben Hohenstatt is a staff writer for The Herald Independent and can be reached at bhohenstatt@civitasmedia.com. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.


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