Write Drunk, Edit Sober?

This is an argument that has been hashed out for years.  Long ago, Ernest Hemingway was misquoted as saying “Write drunk, edit sober…” and it stuck. The fact that he never said it sort of takes away its “cred.”  It’s not exactly a wise, interesting or funny quote if it was totally made up.  But, it’s still an interesting question.

Lots of writers have  experimented with the concept. It is generally considered a bad idea, I think.  Some feel that it is disrespectful to the craft of writing to say that one should do it drunk.  Some say it perpetuates stereotypes about addiction and art.  Others just don’t like to drink.

But, wherever you stand on the issue, no one can deny that alcohol can have a powerful effect on a person…

It tends to drop the defenses and loosen the inhibitions.  And, with that, it gives us the freedom to get lost in our work.  Though the work may not be the best and most eloquent writing that you have ever put onto paper, it isn’t supposed to be.  Remember, you are supposed to edit SOBER.  Any writer can tell you that editing is the hard part.  If it weren’t for editing, writing would be a freaking breeze…

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See, great writing is a backward process.  We throw everything down on a sheet of paper and it’s a huge mess.  If we are persistent and invested enough, we take that disaster and make it into something worth reading.  The problem is that a lot of people do not bother to try and tidy up the mess.  There are a few reasons for this:

  1. Intimidation when considering the work that it would take.
  2. Fear of failing.
  3. Lack of motivation to truly write something good.
  4. Not considering oneself creative enough to complete the task.

I want to begin at the end of that list.  Number 4 is a tricky thing.  Because, let’s be honest, we aren’t all great writers.  Some of us are just writing for the hell of it.  If you are truly only writing for release, then you may be just fine with leaving the mess there on the paper.  But, if you feel that being a writer is some magical thing that only the certain special few get to do, then you are wrong.  People are writers when they decide to start writing as a habit.

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To be a professional writer, by definition, you sort of have to get paid.  But, becoming a professional writer, I can promise you does nothing to quell your fears when it comes time to really, really write.  I get paid to write all of the time.  I have 2 types of writing jobs, generally.  Jobs that allow me to be super creative and jobs that don’t.  I obviously prefer the former, but I do the latter a lot, too.  I have mouths to feed.  The less creative jobs are easier in the sense that I feel less emotional pressure, but the creative jobs are easier because they are a lot more fun.

But, somehow, even now as a paid writer, I don’t really think of myself as a professional writer.  If you ask, I’ll tell you that I am a writer.  I know, in my mind, that I am.  But, in my heart, I always wonder… and I guess I always will. I still feel nervous about sharing my work and constantly wonder who will like it, if anyone.

As for #s 1 through 3 on my list – not valid excuses.  They are not good reasons not to do your best or try your hardest.  If you are waiting for the day when you wake up and feel like a writer, I have a newsflash.  It isn’t coming.

There is no specific degree which qualifies you as a “writer” and there is no amount of recognition that will make you feel like a writer if you don’t feel it inside.  The need for a writer to be “present” (for lack of a less obnoxious word) is paramount. But, when we sit down to write, we are often not present.  We tell ourselves that we are no good.  That we have nothing to say.  That we are fooling ourselves into believing that we have the right to share.

See, you have to remember: Pretty words aren’t always true and true words are not always pretty! Writing is tough.

In my most humble opinion, that’s where booze comes in handy!

The key is to let it all go.  Putting words on paper is often the greatest fear of the writer.  It’s odd how that works.  So, we have to find ways around that.  The key is to write and write and write until you can’t write anymore.  And, drinking helps with that.  I am not actually saying that you have to drink every time, or even most of the time, that you write. I, of course, would never encourage underage drinking or becoming dependent on alcohol.  

I’m talking about a night that you set aside for yourself for the exact purpose of having some drinks and writing.  Then, once you have drank and written all night, go to bed and leave your writing for the next day.

Initially, it may be nothing that seems valuable, but when you are a creative person, you are able to see the connections between things that others may not notice.  You can read between the lines.  This is especially true of your own writing (even if you were drunk when you wrote it).

So, look at it with sober eyes and think about what the tipsy you was trying to say.  Now, that it is out on paper, it is out. There is something amazingly therapeutic about seeing it there on paper.  You can decide what to do with it, or not, now that you can think a bit more clearly.  But, the hard part (the part where you bleed onto the paper) has been started.

Now, it’s time to clean up the mess, sop up the blood, and make something of it.



What do my readers who also happen to be writers think?  I can’t wait to hear your opinions.  Comment below.



2 thoughts on “Write Drunk, Edit Sober?

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