“Write Drunk, Edit Sober”: A guide to final papers and assignments

With finals upon us, I have no doubt that many of you, like me, have classes that require final papers. They tend to loom over your week, your every waking moment dogged by the thought that you could be making some progress on an essay. At least with in-class finals you can tell yourself you’ve done all the studying that will be beneficial. A paper is in the back of your mind right up to the moment you pass the minimum page threshold, and even then you have to worry about editing. Under this level of stress, you might find yourself with some stubborn writer’s block. Fortunately, you can get around this in much the same way you get around stalled conversations: alcohol. Let your mind run free to get a draft done, then return at a later date to look upon your work and marvel at your typos. Depending on the assignment and the subject, you can indulge yourself with varying levels of inebriation. Let’s get down to business.

Books

Hm, it seems I’ve stored my books beneath my booze. There’s only one way out of this.

Problem Set

Drink: Coke Zero

Drunkenness: You on your tenth birthday

This isn’t technically a final paper, but it is a take-home assignment that you have to write things on, so I’ll say it counts. Anyway, I hate to be the fun police here, but I can’t imagine successfully doing math whilst inebriated. If you can navigate the sea of numbers and party at the same time, then go for it, you beautiful lunatic.

Research Paper

Drink: Beer

Drunkenness: Out to dinner with close friends

Please note that I’m assuming you’ve already gathered the necessary information and references on which you’re basing the paper. If all you’ve got is a vague idea about what you want the subject to be, I’d suggest leaving the libations on hold.

A research paper is less about inspiration than precision. You don’t need to stir the reader’s heart with stunningly beautiful prose; you just have to make sure your arguments are concise and airtight. Drinking too much will work against this, so get a good beer and use it more to relax and enjoy the process of writing than to inspire the writing itself. If your only experience drinking beer before now is through funnels or Natty Light cans, you’ll want to slow down your pace. You can’t afford to black out burn out too early. Research papers are frequently 10 to 15 pages in length, if not more. Take your time.

History Paper

Drink: A beverage appropriate to the topic of your paper. For example: If it’s about Eastern Europe, consider vodka.

Drunkenness: A party with your family for the holidays

(Full disclosure: I’ve not written a history paper since high school)

As with a research paper, a history paper requires a precise knowledge of a large body of facts. However, you have a bit more leeway in your writing, as the data you have at your disposal is more ambiguous than scientific studies. A history essay often requires you to extrapolate from what you have in order to provide a general unified chronology of events. As the writer, you have the power to decide which facts you feel are important, and which you feel are merely outliers or that don’t reflect any real trend in the past. This is a process that you should take some care with, lest you make predictions about the inevitability of liberal democracy and open markets that may embarrass you twenty years down the road. Keeping that in mind, limit your inebriation to the level of a family gathering. Both a history paper and a family party involve you toeing a certain line of intoxication so as not to upset a bunch of old geezers. Good luck.

Literary Analysis

Drink: Wine. Lots of wine. Think in boxes, not bottles.

Drunkenness: Kanye at the VMAs

Now we’re starting to get to where the alcohol can really help you. Analyzing works of literature involves a great deal of gauging your own impressions of a work, and using them to interpret the meaning of the literature (or the creator’s intent). A good bit of literary criticism should flow smoothly, and be engaging to read. You don’t have to make it fun for the reader (your ideas are paramount), but neither should you bore them half to death. Most importantly, don’t be wishy-washy, tossing about equivocal statements about how a symbol “might” mean this, or the author “may” have intended that. Show some backbone, damnit! To this end, you should imbibe copious amounts of wine, the lifeblood of the literary critic, and let your confidence run away with you a bit. Remember, you can always scale back your ambitions when editing. Now is the time to be grandiose, and to convince the reader of the soundness of your interpretation. In vino veritas. This is particularly true in an ambiguous field like literature. Supposing you’ve read and understood the work, it’s rare for your interpretation of it to be outright wrong, and if it is, the wine isn’t hurting you. Channel the withering scorn of the French, along with Kanye’s confidence in stealing the stage from Taylor Swift, and go forth.

Fiction/Other creative work

Drink: Distilled spirits, 80 proof or higher

Drunkenness: Three sheets to the wind

In a purely creative endeavor, relieving writer’s block is often very difficult as the requirements for such an assignment are so broad as to be considered useless. The writing will come entirely from your own mind, so loosen it up as much as possible. Many great works of literature might sound ridiculous if you only had the basic idea of the plot to go on (much of Vonnegut’s writing comes to mind). Hell, it may be that the finished product is absurd. That’s perfectly okay, because a ludicrous idea can still be powerful depending on how you execute it. Copious consumption of grain alcohol will leave you open to strange ideas for writing, just as it opens you up to the idea of texting your ex. The idea you have may in fact be terrible, or it may be great, or it may have a spark of potential that requires further work to see if it can be worthwhile. You’ll never know if you shoot it down before you start, so give your idiot brain a chance. Creative writing isn’t always about being rational or constructing airtight arguments, at least not in the early stages. Leave yourself as much as a week after the first draft to workshop your idea, and to return to the bottle if you think it’s necessary. Drunk confidence is your friend in this situation. If you think your art’s no good, you’ll have a job trying to convince other people of its quality. The overlap between great writers and famous drunkards is alarmingly large. You shouldn’t go as far as Hemingway, but there’s something to be said for altering your state of mind. Besides, it’s the literary critics (see above, the Franzia-swilling bastards) who are really going to drive you to the bottle. Trust your creative instinct, and be prepared for a long period of revising. Good luck.

Closing Thoughts

If you’re feeling particularly saucy, i.e. you’re taking a course S/NC, you might skip the editing process and see how your raw brain-pickings score. I wouldn’t recommend it, but I’m also recommending that you write your final papers while hammered, so it’s reasonable to think my advice is terrible. I’m of the belief that writing should be enjoyable on some level, and if it’s not, you ought to be able to forget about it upon finishing. Hence, the alcohol. I wish you all good luck on your various written assignments, now and in the future.

Image via Steve Dowd ’15.

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