Write Drunk, Edit Sober?

As an aspiring writer and blogger, I am always looking for writing advice. I am also always aware of what works for me and what doesn’t. One piece of advice I like, but have been reluctant to share, is from the American author and journalist Ernest Hemingway:

Write drunk, edit sober.

Ernest Hemingway

As I said I have been reluctant to share this bit of advice and for two reasons. For one, I didn’t want to encourage a bad habit. I didn’t want anyone to take the quote too seriously. I don’t actually depend on alcohol to get the creative juices flowing. To be honest though, it has worked for me on many occasions.

Every once in a while it’s fun to mix up a couple of margaritas, get a little tipsy, throw on some music, and let the words flow. I’ve noticed that I think much faster and ideas seem to come together easier. Alcohol lubricates the wheels in my mind. I don’t get stuck trying to move from one thought to the next. I don’t get hung up wondering where I am going with a piece. I just write and it feels nice.

Another benefit is that my inner critic is completely silenced. When I “drunk write” everything I type sounds amazing. Just like any other decision you make while drinking it just sound like a good idea. When I look for writing advice I see over and over that a first draft should be messy. It should be nothing but a steaming pile of feelings and thoughts vomited on to the page. Alcohol facilitates this. It helps you shut out all the fear and anxiety until you are left with nothing but pure emotion.

The problem with making decisions while drinking is that your sober self might have different ideas about what is a good idea and what isn’t. That is where the second part of the advice comes in, edit sober! Nothing you write while drunk should be published while you are drunk. Wait until the next morning (or afternoon if you are nursing a hangover) and read it out loud to yourself. The main task you will have is to organize your thoughts.

When I write while drinking I write the way I think. I jump from thought to thought abruptly, I over explain, I go off on tangents, I sound chaotic and unorganized. My drunk writing is the same.

When I edit sober I can organize my thoughts while keeping all of the emotion. I can get my point across while keeping all the interesting stuff. I can also take out all the extra thoughts that aren’t contributing to the piece well and use it in another one later.

So writing drunk works for me, sometimes. If you are the kind of person who likes to indulge in a cocktail here and there it wouldn’t hurt to try writing after you indulge too.

The other problem with this quote is that it is more than likely not something Ernest Hemingway said. I didn’t know this when I first read it, in fact I only learned it was misattributed when I started to do a little research for this post. The consensus seems to be that the quote actually came from Peter De Vries. De Vries was a satirist with a totally different style from Hemingway’s. The original quote reads:

“Sometimes I write drunk and revise sober, and sometimes I write sober and revise drunk. But you have to have both elements in creation — the Apollonian and the Dionysian, or spontaneity and restraint, emotion and discipline.”

According to his granddaughter  Hemingway “never wrote drunk, he never wrote beyond early, early morning”. She goes on to say that people want to believe that he said it as a way to glamorize his lifestyle as much as his work. She thinks “it’s the misperception of addiction and living life on the edge, as if it’s cool”.

As a person who has struggled with addiction and comes from a family with a long history of problems with drugs and alcohol I do not want to glorify addiction at all. Writing while drinking is nothing but a fun exercise for me. I find it interesting that I write differently while slightly under the influence. I also think other people should try it too, but only if that is something they can do without causing themselves mental health issues.

I also don’t want to perpetuate any myths about creativity or how much work is involved in writing. Being creative is not something you can turn on with drugs and alcohol. Being creative takes a ton of focus and day-to-day work. Boring and often agonizing work. It’s not cool and edgy at all.

Writing while drinking is nothing but a way to do things a little differently from time to time. Even then, I never drink on a work night and I never drink to the point where I can’t walk or I black-out. I don’t even drink enough to end up throwing up. I am very careful about the amount and the frequency of my alcohol intake. I also do not believe at all that alcohol helps me be more creative.

So while I do follow this advice from time to time, I take it with a grain of salt and you should too. Loosen up every once in a while, pour yourself a drink, and let the words pour out of you while your inner critic is put to rest for the evening. Or don’t, because you should be able to write, or paint, or whatever creative thing you do, without the use of mind altering substances.

But I will tell you, it is kinda fun when you do. :)

Written in response to the weekly blogging event Writer’s Quote Wednesday hosted buy Colleen at Silver Threading.

Original image via https://flic.kr/p/4Dhj7x


4 Replies to “Write Drunk, Edit Sober?”

  1. This was a great post, and yes, I have done the same thing, except my writing is not good at all in that condition! LOL! How interesting that the mystique surrounding Hemmingway is still rooted in all those old notions. I love his writing. Deep and majestic, like the man. Thanks, Lisa! Well done! <3


  2. I like to think of “write drunk” to mean more than just “write while under the influence of alcohol.” I’m reminded of some of Bradbury’s writing advice about writing with “Zest and Gusto”… you can be “drunk” on many things, including more esoteric things like an idea or concept. :)
    That said, I sometimes enjoy a glass of wine while I’m writing!


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