“Write Drunk, Edit Sober” is a quote that is often mistakenly attributed to writer Ernest Hemingway.
This quote can be interpreted either in its most literal sense or – more usefully – metaphorically.
In this article, we will discuss what this quote means and some commonly associated myths. We will also talk about the most useful ways to put this quote to use. Read on to find out more about:
- What “Write drunk, edit sober” means
- The most common myths about this quote debunked
- The problems with this quote
- The most helpful ways to interpret this quote, and how it can help your creativity.
Let’s get into it.
What Does It Mean To “Write Drunk, Edit Sober”?
“Write drunk, Edit Sober” is a quote that is often incorrectly attributed to the famous writer Ernest Hemingway.
For people who read this quote and take the meaning in its most literal sense, it means to start writing when you are intoxicated to help reduce writer’s block and so that you can write freely.
Some may even think that drunk words are sober thoughts! Once written, it’s then time to edit the piece soberly with a clear mind and a critical lens.
This quote is often seen as being metaphorically intended, meaning to write freely when in a creative relaxed mood and then to edit when you are in a headspace to give more attention to fine detail.
Debunking Myths and Claims to “Write Drunk, Edit Sober”
People will often incorrectly believe that “Write Drunk, Edit Sober” is a quote by Ernest Hemingway (who ironically never drank and wrote!) and is to be taken literally.
Let’s debunk some of these myths:
The phrase “Write Drunk, Edit Sober” is often incorrectly attributed to Ernest Hemingway
Most people think that Ernest Hemingway, one of the greatest writers of all time who had a turbulent relationship with alcohol, was the one who said “Write drunk, edit sober”. However, after a quick Google search, you’ll find that Hemingway never actually said this.
Ironically, you’ll find that Hemingway wrote when he was sober in the morning before he started to drink.
It suggests a literal approach to writing under the influence of alcohol and editing while sober
Whilst most writers will metaphorically interpret this quote, the quote does have a literal meaning to it (which serves as bad advice).
Most writers will interpret this quote as meaning to write when you are in a creative, relaxed mood, and then edit your piece when you are less able to think of more content but are in a more analytical headspace.
Taken literally, this quote endorses creative endeavors under the influence of alcohol – which is harmful to most people and will likely hinder writing work!
It implies that alcohol-induced creativity is an effective writing method
This quote not-so-subtly implies that alcohol use is an effective way to enhance creativity.
However, alcohol use (especially when heavily abused) causes brain damage and long-term impairment in brain pathways involved with writing.
As Stephen King, one of the most famous writers alive today who has struggled with alcoholism has said “The idea that the creative endeavor and mind-altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time.”
It glorifies substance abuse
“Write drunk, edit sober” incorrectly glorifies substance abuse. This quote does not represent the fractured relationships and damage to one’s spirit and body that come with heavy alcohol consumption.
It can be easy to glorify substance use, especially in today’s society. However, it is important to view these quotes from a slightly critical lens, keeping reality in mind.
How to Positively Interpret the Saying ‘Write Drunk, Edit Sober’
While there are certainly potentially harmful ways to interpret this quote, there are some silver linings that help to interpret this quote in a useful manner:
Finding inspiration in a relaxed state
Taken metaphorically, this quote can be useful. Our moods will always fluctuate, and the best time to make use of our creative spirits and find inspiration is often when we are most relaxed (or energetic).
Meanwhile, we will also often have days where creativity is a million miles away. Using this as a potential tool rather than a hindrance can be a great way to use these feelings as a source of productivity.
‘Editing while sober’ (or using our lack of creativity as a source of increased focus and detail-orientation for more mundane tasks) is a great way to interpret this.
Embracing creativity without inhibitions
Like Hemingway, the best way to be creative is with a clear head, free of mind-altering substances.
Sober creativity is clear, cohesive creativity. Being sober allows you to add more detail, care, and complexity to creative works.
Cultivating a free-flowing writing process
Working on creative pieces exclusively while sober allows the process to be streamlined and cohesive.
It also allows your brain to make complex connections, and to stay more consistent with your style of writing.
Drinking while writing often leads to inconsistencies both in plot and in style, which results in pieces that are disjointed and riddled with irregularities.
“Write Drunk, Edit Sober” is a surprisingly helpful piece of advice when interpreted the right way!
Writing (or any other creative work for that matter) is always best done when we are relaxed, inspired, and motivated.
However, no one is ever all these things, all of the time.
At times, we will feel most ‘sober’, where we are most focused and ready for work that takes some attention to detail and mental clarity.
Like everything in life, we are handed a mixed bag. Learning to make the most of everything we are given and using it productively is the best way to live (and write!).