Write Drunk, Edit Sober, Stay Naked


Write Drunk, Edit Sober, Stay Naked

Vulnerability And Writing Memoir

Crafting a memoir is demanding. “Write drunk, edit sober.” A quote often misattributed to Ernest Hemingway, might evoke romanticized images of an artist. But I appreciate the simplicity of these four words in particular for memoir. They serve as a succinct reminder to shed inhibitions while writing and later revise with precision. 

When we allow our emotions to surface they can be examined. Embrace the vulnerability.

Give it space and time to simmer.

Revisit the emotions of a painful conversation.

Slow a scene to tease out every detail.

Relax and permit the past to enter as smoke would fill a room, first delicately creeping under the door and then expanding to fill the space. Physically re-experience an episode.  The heart races and our breathing hurries as the mind replays a scene. Without inhibition, hidden thoughts, secret fears, and deepest selves are revealed. Pieces of our puzzle appear. Write, write, write. Words bleed onto the page.  What we reap when we are drunk in our memories can help illuminate our truths and the patterns of our journey.

The words - sloppy, exposed, naked lay waiting for the careful mind of a sober editor. Each sentence calls to be shaped and molded, read and reread aloud.  This is the moment. This is when a memoirist must have courage to maintain the vulnerability, the intimacies captured, and stay naked as they craft connected scenes. It is a labor of love and search for truth. He must write for himself, his soul the only reader.   

Barely 32, I was without a home, a single-mother, the scarlet letter D on my chest. There is no way to hide divorce. It is a failed public promise. After my marriage collapsed, people began openly sharing their marital fears and problems. The richness of my raw vulnerability, my taste of failure, our shared experiences, gave them hope. They were not alone. My vulnerability, my story comforted and empowered others.

Sharing our stories, our lives through memoir requires vulnerability. The best memoirists, Maya Angelou, Frank McCourt, Joan Didion embrace the strength and richness of being truly authentic. Their stories, their inner most thoughts are deftly sculpted in words as they allow their lives to sit naked on the page.

Vulnerability is without end.  There is no limit.  Like love, we do not check a box and feel complete.  Vulnerability, fear, and the imposter syndrome are ever present.  But by practicing being vulnerable, becoming comfortable in our authentic space, we enjoy a new freedom and are simultaneous connected to others.

The tireless march toward vulnerability is what holds author and reader close in inexplicable ways.

Vulnerability is a writer’s gift to readers.  




As we near another anniversary of Hurricane Katrina I reflected a bit about writing memoir and what it means to be authentic, naked, and vulnerable on the page. This essay originally appeard on Kathy Pooler's blog Memoir Writer's Journey.  Click here! and join the conversation.