This quote popped up in class yesterday, and it got me thinking about what Hemingway really meant by it. Sure, taking the quote literally can lead to an interesting work session, but I think there’s a deeper meaning hiding beneath this seemingly whimsical advice.
It seems Hemingway was trying to make a point about the importance of taking on multiple perspectives when creating something. Every person has (at least) two sides to them, especially when it comes to creativity. The “drunk” side consists of our uninhibited, out-of-bounds, wonky ideas. This is the part of us that ignores the limits and creates with abandon. Our drunk selves believe in endless possibilities, no boundaries, unrestrained creativity, [insert more inspirational clichés here].
The other side is the practical, realistic side. This is the part of us that says, “Look dude, the headline is funny, but it doesn’t really fit the brand. We’re gonna have to nix it.” Whereas the Drunk Self says, “go for it!” the Practical Self says “slow down!” The DS says, “Yolo!” while the PS says “Oh no.” The Drunk Self is throwing a wild party while the Practical Self is calling the cops. You get the idea.
However, in spite of their differences, the Drunk Self and the Practical Self aren’t enemies. Rather, they’re a team. The Drunk Self goes nuts, and the Practical Self is there to clean up the mess and find useful nuggets of truth amidst the clutter.
The point is, we need to let these two sides work together like they’re supposed to when we’re creating something. We should let our inner Drunk Self come out and play for a while so that our Practical Self can dig through the clutter and find nuggets of brilliance hidden in the nonsense. Creating is not all about getting it right on the first try. You don’t have to slave away for hours trying to make your copywriting and art direction perfect when you’re first coming up with ideas. That can make it extremely difficult to come up with good stuff, and it can sometimes kill inspiration before it even really hits.
So just go ahead and let yourself make mistakes. So what if the tagline is a little too long? Don’t erase it. It could lead to something better. At the beginning of the creative process, it’s good to allow your ideas to have a mind of their own. In fact, if you’re really going for it, it shouldn’t even feel like a “process” at all. As John Hegarty put it, true creativity should feel like “a manic construction of absurd, unlikely irreverent thoughts and feelings.” With such a varied, unpredictable medley of ideas, you give yourself a vast selection of material to choose from in the editing stage.
After you’ve gotten all the kookiness out of your system, walk away from it. Go distract yourself for a little while. Play a sport, go for a walk, whatever. Let it simmer in your subconscious mind. Then, come back to it, but approach it with an editor’s eye (your Practical Self). Start rearranging words, cutting stuff out, etc. The idea is to create structure out of an unstructured mess. Cut out the fluff and play with what’s left until you find something that works. If your brain starts to hurt, you know you’re doing it right.
This is basically the process I use for coming up with ideas. I spit out everything I can think of, then gather it up into a neat pile and look for golden nuggets.
Who knows, maybe Hemingway really did just mean that we should all get hammered and start writing. Regardless of the quote’s original meaning, this is how I interpret it. And this process has worked pretty well for me up to this point.