On Writing Drunk


“Write drunk, edit sober,” is a quote often attributed to Ernest Hemingway. And though his family members dispute the idea that he ever said it or even practiced this method, the attribution has persisted. Many critics gripe about this, saying it glorifies addiction and perpetuates the myth that creativity is something whimsical rather than real work.

But as a self-proclaimed plotter and one who rarely drinks, I say there’s something to the concept.

I’m not saying alcohol makes one more creative. Like Hemingway, I write best in the early morning, while I’m still in a relaxed, hazy state. When the details of day-to-day living have yet to bombard my senses and require practical thought and action, the fuzzy, “what if” sensation of possibility we gain in dreams is still driving my train of thought.

The two historical novels I’ve worked (and am working) on had extensive spreadsheets precede them. At least a third of the time spent creating them went into research alone. The books are accurate, detailed and well-planned.

Then there’s this contemporary women’s fiction book I wrote during National Novel Writing Month some years back. With nothing more than a bunch of character sketches in my head and a vague story idea, I sat down every day for thirty days and wrote 1,800 words. Plot complications came in “aha!” moments. Voice flowed effortlessly. And once I was able to let go and allow my characters to make bad choices, there was no stopping me.

Now I’m trying to edit the thing into submission and, ideally, submittable form. I liken the task to knitting with a pair of live eels. But.

The story is one of the most authentic, emotional and fun projects I’ve created. I never get tired of reading or working on it. It makes me laugh out loud. The characters feel like my friends, and I can’t wait to share it. And I wrote it in a time-crunched, don’t-think-just-write, race to the finish state of mind. In a way, I was drunk on the idea of reaching my goal of 50,000 words in thirty days and refused to let logic or planning cloud my vision.

My point is, abandoning rational thought and letting yourself succumb to a state of drunken freedom with your writing is a great idea. Like alcohol, it can reduce your inhibitions and make you feel powerful, daring and willing to try things you wouldn’t otherwise try if you thought about it too much.

The results might surprise the logical, sober you. And without any regrettable texts or tattoos to face the next day.