Write Drunk, Edit Sober

“Write drunk, edit sober.”  —Ernest Hemmingway

Hemmingway advises us to write drunk, edit sober.

In theory, this sounds great. When I read it, I envision a night of words flowing from my fingertips as I hold a glass of scotch — yes, the good stuff. I imagine words pouring out of me faster than any bottle could ever allow, and I imagine it would be damn good. The next morning, there would be no hangover — only anticipation to read what had been written. 

And it would be good. There would be no misspellings or slurred lines, dragging across the page. It would be good, and, even if it wasn’t, I’d be dry and could edit out the slurs and the tipsy comma splices.

But then I think beyond theory.

And I realize that it wouldn’t be good. Not even a little bit. Regardless of Hemmingway’s success, he doesn’t know the words that are bottled up inside me — sealed away tighter than any fine wine or aged whiskey.

Hemmingway doesn’t know how just one drop opens the floodgates and causes the words to not just pour but to ******drown****** the page. He doesn’t know how intoxicated I become by my own writing, fumbling with words even more incoherent than me. 

Hemmingway doesn’t know me when I’m drunk. 

He doesn’t know how even the sight of the bottle makes my head spin. He doesn’t know all of the memories that race through my mind when I hear the glasses clink, how my eyes can’t see past the bottom of the glass.

Hemmingway doesn’t know all that I’ve lost.

He wasn’t there when I cried at night, begging for the bottle to remain on the shelf but never actually allowing the words to spill out. Hemmingway doesn’t know how I prayed for unpoppable corks, for unsippable glasses, for anything to keep the spirits away. 

Hemmingway doesn’t know all that I drank away.

He wasn’t there those nights when I poured one glass, two glasses, just one more. He wasn’t there when just one more became just one more bottle.

Hemmingway doesn’t know me.

But Hemmingway didn’t even say this. Some other author said it — but isn’t Hemmingway so much cooler with a glass of whiskey in his hand? His words are even easier to swallow with a swig. And doesn’t Hemmingway just sound so much better than some Peter De Vries? 

Hemmingway never told us to write drunk, edit sober. But, yet, we hear these words, and we hear an allowance to lean into our inhibitions. Pop the cork. Pour the glass. Shoot it down. After all, if Hemmingway said it, it must be a good idea.

Write drunk, edit sober.