“Write drunk, edit sober,” was the advice to aspiring authors from novelist, Peter De Vries. (The quote is often erroneously attributed to Ernest Hemingway, perhaps because he was famous for his voracious drinking—though he claimed he never drank while he wrote.)
I’ll quickly note that I’m not recommending De Vries’ battle plan for writing—not literally anyway—but I think he makes a great point on the different mindsets authors need to bring to the writing process.
I recently wrote a blog called 6 Thinking Hats for Writing. The 6 Thinking Hats is a system developed for business by Edward De Bono. I borrowed his concepts and applied it to the writing task:
• The White Hat is neutral; it is simply when an author seeks more information before making any judgments.
• The Red Hat is when an author lets their emotions pour into the writing process and add passion to the story.
• The Yellow Hat is optimistic and believes anything is possible; it is positive and upbeat and encouraging.
• Green Hat thinking represents creativity; how can we come up with something new and different?
• The Blue Hat is when we have to get very organized and figure out how everything works together—and how to get the project done.
• The Black Hat plays “devil’s advocate” and challenges everything; it is not kind toward ideas that don’t quite work.
As I write, I try to heed De Vries’ advice. I don’t pour a stiff drink and see where the story goes, but I bring a different mindset based on where I am in the writing process.
When it’s time to move forward and get the words to flow, I try to keep it fun while wearing the yellow and green hats of optimism and creativity. I write fast and don’t sweat every sentence and comma – that comes later.
When I know an idea isn’t fully developed and I’m groping for words, I remind myself to put on the white hat of research. While writing Cold As Ice, one of the subplots involved the Red Mafyia—the Russian Mafia in America. I went back and skimmed through two books I had already read—The Red Mafyia and Red Notice—and poured through ten or more articles to add depth and texture to that part of the storyline. I put the green hat back on and actually made a Russian hit man a sympathetic character—something I wouldn’t have thought possible if I hadn’t had the yellow hat close by.
I got my start as a writer while in college, covering sports for a local newspaper—it was a blast to get paid to go to games. That was a green hat job. But my first full-time job in publishing introduced new hats for me. I was a heavy-handed editor for a Christian curriculum publisher. So I learned too well a project wasn’t done until I donned the blue and black hats and reworked material mercilessly. Those aren’t as fun of hats for me, but I still try to make sure I put them on, making sure the material is organized and flows naturally, getting rid of material that detracts from or doesn’t move the story along, and rewriting scenes that just aren’t quite there.
Wearing the black hat isn’t nearly as much fun as wearing the green hat. I think many authors would agree with me on that sentiment. Getting tough with my material and myself is the hardest part of the process. Leaving words on the cutting floor is painful but necessary. (And by the way, a plotline I pulled from Cold As Ice has become the starter to my next Kristen Conner novel, Under Pressure, so not all cutting is automatically lost.)
Knowing I would wear nothing but the yellow and green hats while I write if given a choice, I find 6 Hat Thinking very helpful to help me know when to get tough on myself and bring a sober mind to the entire writing process.