Write Drunk, Edit Sober – Finding Meaning Behind the Myth

The quote “write drunk, edit sober” is commonly attributed to Ernest Hemingway and lots of people are confused about the meaning of the phrase. I wanted to break up some misconceptions about this quote while also digging deeper to find the true meaning in the saying.

First off, Hemingway never said write drunk, edit sober. Novelist Peter De Vries said it. De Vries wrote a whole whack of novels over his fifty-year career and published two shorts in the New Yorker, but he’s not Hemingway. De Vries isn’t a household name, but Hemingway is, and maybe this grants the saying a bit more weight in the eyes of the general population.

According to Hemingway’s granddaughter, Mariel Hemingway, the great American writer never wrote drunk. He’d get up before everyone else, no matter how blistering drunk he was the night before, and he’d write in the morning like clockwork. The afternoons and evenings would be when ole Ernest got drunk and shouted simple sentences at the moon while shaking his fist.

A lot of this ties into the myth that writers get their creativity from substance abuse. Lots of people, struggling writers included, want to believe that alcohol and drugs will help them write better because it’s easier than the truth. The only way anyone improves at anything is a lot of hard work and practice. The crappy film Limitless plays into this myth, and cult figures like Hunter S. Thompson perpetuate the idea.

Digging deeper into the quote, I believe there’s a potent kernel of truth hidden behind the myth. Take “write drunk, edit sober” metaphorically. Write with your blood hot. Write when you feel intoxicated with the idea. Write without inhibitions. That’s how I interpret “write drunk.” Edit sober fits this analogy as well. While the metaphor instructs us to write under the influence of creativity, it also suggests editing while in a logical state of mind, grounded in reason and reality.

What are your thoughts? Do you write drunk? Drop in the comments – let’s talk writing friends. All the best and happy writing everybody!

2 thoughts on “Write Drunk, Edit Sober – Finding Meaning Behind the Myth

  1. If you think about it from another perspective, wherein “drunk” means in a frenzy, writing by instinct and not paying too much attention to details and mistakes, and being caught up in the moment and pouring everything into paper, I think it works!


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