It is customary to hold the great authors up as the sources of all wisdom in our craft and we can’t have a conversation about the greats and the wisdom they bestowed on us without bringing up Ernest Hemmingway. So, despite my status as a mere mortal I would like to raise a few objections to some of the facts that we now take for granted because a genius said them.
Keep in mind I’m not saying he was wrong, but I would argue that his advice was only right for people like him. He was a genius with a pen, but we are not all Hemmingway. The good, even great writers of our age are all very different people so what worked for him won’t necessarily work for us.
First of all, the first draft of everything isn’t shit. That’s so incredibly unfair and dismissive of one of the most beautiful things a writer can make. Yes, the first draft is often rough and messy but it’s full of great things. It’s full of half formed ideas, fledgling characters and silly throwaways that you put in just because they made you smile. Maybe those things will be built on in later drafts and maybe they’ll be removed completely but they are beautiful in their imperfections.
I cannot urge you strongly enough to treasure your first draft. You don’t need to overedit it, examine it or make it perfect but as you write it appreciate how wonderfully flawed it is. Your first draft might be the truest expression of who you are as a writer, with all of who you fear you are and all you hope to be included.
This isn’t just about Hemmingway either, it’s about all the greats. A lot of great writers gave a lot of very good advice but not all of it applies to you. People give advice based on what’s worked for them in the past and maybe it helped Hemmingway to believe his first draft was going to be garbage no matter what he did but that doesn’t mean that’ll help you. You can take advice from Stephen King, Shakespeare, Terry Pratchett, all of the above or none of them but the idea of idolising great writers until everything they say is unquestionable gospel is harmful to you as a writer.
Unless I’m wrong in which case feel free to ignore me too.
I’m not saying you need to trust yourself only, just pick and choose the advice that’s right for you. My first draft is my precious baby and building on it is an act of nurturing and love that I couldn’t hope to do if I really believed it was shit.
Oh, and don’t write drunk, even Hemmingway rarely actually did that according to his family. He drank after he was finished for the day or during particularly foul cases of writer’s block.