To a writer, there’s nothing scarier, yet full of pristine possibility, than a blank Word document. After YouTube’s most prominent mixologist Mamrie Hart got a book deal last year, she suddenly found herself with hundreds of those blank slates lined up in a row, like so many cars to be jumped by Evel Kneivel’s motorcycle. Somehow, she managed to clear them all–but not without some serious challenges along the way.
Since 2011, Hart has been disclosing unorthodox, pop culture-tinged drink recipes and inadvisable personal experiences on her YouTube channel, You Deserve a Drink. Now the high-spirited Internet personality, and her publisher, are hoping some of the folks who’ve watched her videos a collective 43 million times will be interested in diving deeper into those stories for a couple hundred pages. (A drink recipe is included in each chapter, lest devoted YDAD fans start going through alcohol withdrawal.) Of course, writing a book is a more demanding job than recording a short video, and perhaps even writing a movie–like Camp Takota, which Hart penned with Lydia Genner recently. The challenges involved in putting a book together are enough to drive anyone to drink, even if that wasn’t an integral part of their job already.
As You Deserve a Drink hits bookstores and Hart’s travelogue series finishes its second season online, the first time author talked to Co.Create about the most difficult hurdles of writing a book and how she handily flung herself over them.
Having a general idea of what it is you want to write is only the first step in writing a book. Each idea also needs at least a baseball team’s worth of sub-ideas, and they all have to be ideas that people might want to read.
“The first thing I did was pretend I didn’t have to write it, and had the laziest Christmas and New Year’s of my life,” Hart says. “I even broke my own personal record for Number of Successive Days In Same Sweatpants. Once I sat down to get to work, I literally made a Sticky Note on my laptop and started listing stories from my past that I thought were, 1.) Worthy of being published, and 2.) Able to be stretched into 4,000 words. Whether you’re writing a memoir or not, I urge everyone to make a list of all their most ridiculous stories. It is the single most humiliating list to write, at least next to ‘Whom I’ve Boinked.’”
“Choosing the order of the chapters was a challenge too,” she adds. “It’s in no way chronological. The stories bounce around from college, to childhood, to my twenties. When all was said and done, I basically had to space them out so that there weren’t two chapters back-to-back that had common themes of road trips or nudity.”
Half of writing is rewriting, and sometimes it can be just as difficult to decide what to leave out of a piece as what to put in.
“A lot of the stories in my book are drinking stories, and so I wanted them to feel like we’re siddled up to a bar, martini in hand, and I was just gabbing to you about a story from my past,” Hart says. “That being said, I’m method. I needed to get into that headspace, and the best way to do that? Booze. I am a big proponent of ‘write drunk, edit sober.’ And because of that, I allowed myself to freely go on tangents or write bad jokes, then let my editor reel me back in.”
Hart says she would turn in roughly three chapters at a time. “I think it’s easier that way to digest notes and make changes,” she says. “Sometimes you have to ‘kill your darlings’ as they say, but turning in a whole book and then getting all the notes at once would’ve felt like a darlings mass murder. (That got dark. Sorry.) Sometimes I would see a note from my editor suggesting I cut a few paragraphs and think, ‘Really? You don’t think a 300 word tangent concerning my thoughts on panty liners is necessary to this chapter?’ But, you’ve just got to throw it all out there and see what sticks. “
A regular writing routine works wonders for finishing a book, but not everybody can spare the same set of hours each day. It’s important to discover just what time you can demarcate as writing time and how to wring the most out of it.
“I want to be a morning person so bad. I think it would honestly be one of my three wishes from a genie. (None of this ‘three more wishes’ shit. I’m not greedy). But it’s just never going to happen. That said, writing for me is less about time of day and more about location. As soon as I got the book deal, I looked for an office outside of my place. After touring some extremely depressing office buildings, I found a cute little sun drenched yellow house with fruit trees and my desk that looks out at the Hollywood sign. It’s a goddamn Pinterest board come to life, but, most importantly, it is Internet-free. Nope, there isn’t free Internet. There is no Internet. I go there to write and only write. Sure, sometimes I’d need Internet to check who sings a certain song or what year 90210 premiered, but I could use my phone. If my laptop had Internet, I would have nine different tabs open faster than you can say ‘Shannen Doherty.'”
The author also went on three-day writing “retreats” to the ACE Hotel in Palm Springs with her dog, Beanz. “This would consist,” she says, “of waking up, getting coffee, writing in my room, late lunch in the hotel’s restaurant while writing, afternoon cocktail by pool with laptop, nap, writing on patio with beer while listening to everyone having fun by the pool, back to hotel restaurant for dinner while writing, cocktails in hotel bar by myself while writing, back in room to read what I’d written out loud to my dog. Sleep. Repeat. I did this four times over the course of writing the first draft and subsequent rewrites. The people at the front desk know my dog by name, and the bartender knows my drink. It’s like my own Cheers but with way too little Ted Danson.”
As a YouTube star, Hart is known for her spontaneity and conversational tone. In writing a book, she had to reconcile her YouTube voice with her writing voice, and make sure that they were as compatible as possible.
“You learn a lot about how you talk when you write a book,” Hart says. “Like, there will be a phrase you never realized you say and then you read a chapter and you’ve used it eight times! I felt like that sweet, chubby, red-headed kid being called out for using ‘apparently’ every fourth word. Also, who knew I used so many Internet abbreviations like ‘IRL’ and ‘TBH’? Apparently, I do. Half the time it looked like I was writing in code–which is fine for a Tumblr savvy reader, but I went back and wrote out real words for the everyman. Because I didn’t want all the reviews to be ‘SMH. This book is short AF. TBH, I ROFL but WTF?’ If you just understood that, congrats. You are capable of having an entire conversation that your grandma would not understand.”
They say that when you’re facing the right direction, all you have to do is keep moving. Easier said than done.
“I am the queen of to-do lists,” Hart says. “Sometimes this just requires changing the date on top of the list because I didn’t check anything off the day before. I do the same thing with my writing, though. I say what I want accomplished by the end of each day that week. Subsequently, I am also the queen of rewarding myself. Be it a cocktail, an hour of the Food Network, or a massage, I am all about treating myself when I get things done. I am straight up Pavlovian and work for treats. If I were an actual dog I would be one of those dogs that does obstacle courses.
“Whenever I get writer’s block, I like to clear my head by going on a run . . . is something I would never say. I think I do what most other writer’s do and that’s read other people’s work. Watch a funny movie. Basically, consume the shit that you wish you had made until the envy percolates so hard that it pops that writer’s block. There is no better motivator than seething jealousy. I think Oprah said that.”