John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Drunk and Tight: A Sot's Guide to the Elements of Style

“Before I start to write,” said E.B.White, “I always treat myself to a nice dry Martini. Just one, to give me the courage to get started. After that, I'm on my own.”

As I read a book about White and The Elements of Style — of which much more anon — my mind turns to the principles of drink as they relate to the principles of writing and editing.

Rule 1: If you write when tight, you must edit when sober.

Rule 2: It is always five o’clock in the afternoon somewhere.

Rule 3: Do not approach the keyboard after the third bourbon.

Rule 4: Throw away that notebook at the bedside. Nothing written there will make any sense in the morning.

Rule 5: Wine with spouse, beer with fellow writers, sherry with clergy, gin with editors, whisky with publishers. Bourbon solus.

Rule 6: The publisher always pays for the drinks.

Rule 7: Omit needless ice.

11 comments:

  1. So THAT's what they mean by "tight prose."

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  2. I follow Rule 1 religiously. If only I could say I have done that when commenting on blogs.

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  3. Surely a true Strunkian would state Rule 1 as "Write tight, edit sober"?

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  4. Addendum to Rule 5: Frozen blender drinks with art directors.

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  5. The publisher pays for everything. Although editors are occasionally permitted to buy the publisher a drink as a symbol of good will provided there are no witnesses.

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  6. Patricia the TerseOctober 16, 2009 at 2:33 AM

    I prefer Pellegrino with lime & ice or Orangina with ice. Clear heads always help.

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  7. An editor told me once about a writer of western novels who drank large quantities of beer while churning out books. When he had to quit beer for health reasons, he tried writing while smoking marijuana. It didn't work. One fast-draw scene lasted six pages, as the writer described the grain of the leather of the holsters, and so forth. Health be damned, he returned to beer. His readers appreciated it.

    Writing while hung over is effective if the subject is self-loathing.

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  8. Can't agree with Rule 3. Boogie-woogie is just one of the great things that would never have been discovered if no-one played the piano after drinking whisky.

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  9. Patricia the TerseOctober 17, 2009 at 1:52 AM

    I could go the rest of my life without ever hearing boogie-woogie again - so repititious. However, if I had a sister Kate, I could shimmy with her if required - and only if sober.

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  10. Rule 6!
    Now you tell me, I usually end up with the tab.
    Then again, I'm just the photographer

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  11. "Surely a true Strunkian would state Rule 1 as 'Write tight, edit sober'?"

    No, because a true Strunkian would avoid run-on sentences.

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