Friday Fun – Writing Drunk – A Good Idea?

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: Hemingway famously said, “Write drunk; edit sober.”  What are your thoughts on this approach? Does it work for you – either metaphorically or literally?


headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: I’m a little apprehensive about answering this one. Philosophically, I embrace Hemingway’s advice whole-heartedly – in the metaphorical sense. Truth be told, however, I don’t always follow it. I am chronically guilty of editing while writing. It’s a habit I am working on breaking, but which still plagues me on a daily basis.

I have also taken Hemingway’s advice in the literal sense. Well, perhaps not “drunk,” but definitely tipsy. There have been several occasions on which I have written a column or blog post after having a glass (or a glass-and-a-half) of an adult libation. I have been responsible enough to avoid hitting “publish” until I’ve had a chance to give the piece a thorough re-read.

I do not know if slight inebriation increases my actual creativity, but being under the influence definitely seems to loosen me up so that I am (much) less concerned about appearances and “shoulds” and the risk of offending anyone or even coming off as a little weird. I think those are all good attributes for a writer. Perhaps I should indulge Mr. Hemingway more often. Perhaps.

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: I’m not much of a drinker, and if I do have a glass of wine it tends to be while I’m cooking, so I haven’t had much experience with writing drunk, but I do remember being a better pool player after a beer, back in the day. Two beers, however, did nothing for my pool game, and I think the same would be true with writing.

I have had the experience of writing fast, without editing, and that feels wonderful. Usually I’m trying to capture something before it’s gone so I can’t take the time to edit and the results are always better than I expect. I think there’s definitely something to be said about losing one’s inhibitions, as long as you re-read before publishing.

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson: I think my best writing is the uncensored freehand – with a timer. I set the timer for 20 minutes, get a blank piece of paper and a pen, or perhaps my laptop, and just write or type until the timer goes off. No editing, no thinking, just getting whatever words onto the page that need to get out of my head. It’s quite a rush when it happens, and I do like feeling a bit lighter knowing I’ve made room for more words in my brain. <grin>



wendy-shotWendy Thomas: Writing Drunk – a good idea? Good Lord – no it’s not a good idea. Ever. Writing is a skill, it’s disciplined. It’s work. Why on earth would  you even attempt to approach it at anything less than the top of  your game?

51 thoughts on “Friday Fun – Writing Drunk – A Good Idea?

    • Such a great point! We can absolutely be “high” on an emotion. I see the effects of this kind of “writing under the influence” most often in my journals. A feeling of elation, invincibility (or, conversely despair or anguish) can fuel our words in such interesting ways. Thanks for adding this perspective!

      • Indeed! My husband always says I should give the “write drunk” strategy a shot (literally, ha!) but I’ve always worried I’ll accidentally hit publish on a crazy blog post! Might have to try it with fiction some time though!

  1. Great Fun Question! I’m pleased that I’m learning something new about Hemingway. I never heard that quote before now.

    I write a blog about wine and psychology. I most definitely have written while tipsy and made mistake of hitting publish button, with 1 or 2 typos, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed with an edit later on…and the posts were pretty good actually.They were some of my first efforts in starting the blog.

    I think disinhibition can be a great thing for writers but like already mentioned, edit when sober. Our minds often have the itty bitty shitty committee criticizing along the way, so once in a while being a little more relaxed is a good thing when writing. But just once in a while 🙂

    • “… the itty bitty shitty committee …” <—- That is the best thing I've read all week. LOVE it! 🙂

      And now I'm totally going to check out your blog, because – wine and psychology together? – color me intrigued.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Never be ashamed but make sure there is a sense of responsibility, a level of maturity mixed with fun. Express yourself while being wise and thoughtful.

    My drinking and getting near a keyboard varies. I have yet to submit anything without looking it over at least once. If I go back and edit a published piece, I am honest as to why the changes have occurred.

  3. I feel as though some of my best work comes out when I have been drinking (within reason of course). I, too, have the trouble of editing when I’m writing or just simply writing carefully. I think too much 🙂 When I indulge in a couple glasses, I have found that it allows me to write more freely and with more emotion. 🙂

    • I think many people share your experience, CC. Now, we just need to find, as philosophermouseofthehedge suggested, non-alcoholic ways to induce that same level of inhibition and freedom. Not that a glass of something is a bad thing (at all!), but a writer should have options. 😉

      Thanks for sharing!

  4. Interesting thread. I’m new to blogging, so love to find these sites. Quote new to me also. Most of the time, writing comes fairly easy – or I don’t write. Think I’ll be sticking around.

  5. I wouldn’t sit down to write a short story after a glass of wine, but I do write a personal blog and my most successful posts were mostly written from the heart after a glass of wine, and edited when sober.
    I found the words flowed freely and the emotions were much more real. I also find I am inspired and more thoughtful after a drink.
    The editing when sober is the key, although I have found they mostly stood up to scrutiny the next day.

    • A sip of wine does make the emotions “more real.” I think writing (as long as you’re not publishing it) after a drink is definitely preferable to, say, tipsy texting. 😉

  6. When I wrote my first novel, I had to get drunk to kill one of my characters. I was stalled in my writing for days because I couldn’t bring myself to write her death. One day, I was staring at my computer screen, then I stood up, grabbed my keys, and ran out of the house to buy a bottle of wine. When I got home, I drank two glasses before I started writing. By the time she was dead, I only had half a glass left to celebrate with.

    I edited sober, of course. We’ll see if I ever decide to publish the thing!

  7. This seems to be a lady’s party so far, and I hope my presence doth not offend.

    Our old friend Ernest was in a different era, and there was no danger of him accidentally mailing a manuscript ravaged by a bottle of Pernod to his publisher and having it show up on bookshelves worldwide.

    That said, he may be on to something timeless. I’ve been writing drunk for years, and chipping away at the results in the morning or at the library, sober. Pruning, filling in blanks, tying up loose ends. So the only real difference between me and Hemingway is that he was a successful, critically acclaimed author, and I’m not.

    This business of writing posts and commenting on blogs, drunk; well that’s a new one to me and it’s gonna burn me yet. Still gonna click that button and post.

    • Not offended in the least. Welcome.

      Great point about blog commenting while intoxicated. I’m afraid there are many people out there who do not exercise caution in that arena, and should. Advice heeded. 🙂

  8. The fear of a mistake makes me want to drink. I was horribly traumatized by becoming a teacher nonetheless a language arts teacher! The concept of free writing well known to be a valuable approach to writing for me makes my nerves skyrocket! I relate with you well Jamie Wallace, but I say let’s not fight the editing as we go but embrace it….and drink after! (Yes I did edit this post and am sure there are mistakes still to fix!!!)

  9. I’ve written some of my best fiction while tipsy. The scenes were raw and emotional, and needed little editing when I was done! My combination of choice is wine + music.

    Hey. If it worked for Louis Armstrong (his choice was more of the illegal leaf variety) and Ernest Hemingway, who are we to turn up our noses at the creative process?

    Love this blog, by the way. I’m a new subscriber (and a new blogger). Will be visiting you guys again and again.

    • First of all – welcome! So glad to have you here. 🙂

      I wish I could write with music on, but I’m so distracted by it. Wine, on the other hand has some interesting effects. I think the creative process is different for each of us, and even different on a given day. Being flexible (and open to other approaches) is key. So – like you said – I won’t turn my nose up at any ideas!

      Thanks for coming by.

  10. Must admit I have broken the occasional writer’s block with a glass of wine. I think it helps me relax — and lowers my inhibitions — so that I am more willing to write what I am thinking rather than what I think others might want to read. I have even PUI (published under the influence) — sometimes because I get so paranoid about clicking “publish” even though I’ve written what I want and am satisfied with a post. A glass of wine gives me enough of a “could care less” (or is that “couldn’t care less”?) attitude that I can write or publish more freely. I, too, edit as I write — which holds me back… or at least keeps me re-reading and perfecting the little I have done instead of pushing forward to get the whole post done. Paper and a nice gel pen help me often — I can scribble ideas quickly, knowing I am going to type and perfect later. Maybe that’s a better low-calorie, less risky alternative! 🙂

    As a former English teacher, I taught Hemingway and Fitzgerald and so many other authors who struggled with alcohol. It definitely made me wonder if alcohol helped them write or if the impetus that made them drink so much was the necessary ingredient for good writing…

    Fun post!

    • Hi, Sara! 🙂
      I love getting to that “couldn’t care less” attitude. I think it’s also something that comes with age. (Perhaps it isn’t wisdom we gain with years as much as a sense of – oh, what the hell?)

      Love your tip for going with pen and paper instead of the keyboard. I agree that I will often scrawl ideas (with no inhibitions whatsoever) whereas the keyboard makes me feel like I have to write something more “polished.”

      Finally – interesting question about the role of cocktails in the creative process and craft of writers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald. I’m sure there are books on the topic.

      Glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for chiming in!

  11. I tried that once. The next morning I read what I wrote. It looked so thing like this:

    “Then ssa if the peanut blew up jassta in the soutnorth or if Cassewttwwa wentaahss.”

    I’ve not made the attempt since and have decided that what worked for Hemingway won’t work for me.

  12. Drunk? No. Alcohol induced creativity and free flow of ideas? Depends. The highest grade that I ever received for an essay in a particular university course was written in this state of mind. I’d recommend checking out a book called “Wine Drinking for Inspired Thinking” which delves more into this topic.

  13. As writing under the influence of a mind-altering substance would not be something to promote; nevertheless, I am certain that many, many great ideas and works of art in general have been produced by people in all sorts of extreme mental states. As for some saying that writing is “work,” I would say, “not necessarily.” Most of what I write comes straight out of my heart and onto the page. If it felt like work to me, it would be because I am not writing about something I truly care about. In any case, if a writer has something worth reading, it makes no difference to me if she had just drunk a six-pack or smoked a joint. However, I’d bet she did her editing while sober or straight.

    • I agree that people take all kinds of different paths to find their inspiration and that place where they feel free to express themselves fully. I absolutely prefer the idea of getting their on my own steam, but sometimes a glass of whiskey or chardonnay can get my feet moving in the right direction. 😉

      But – yes! – always edit with a clear head!

  14. When I see the quote about writing “drunk,” I’m in the camp that considers it metaphorically. I consider the intention of the quote to mean that you should lower your inhibitions, you should not be afraid to say anything.
    You know that moment in the night when maybe you’ve had one too many, that you just want to talk to people and tell them how much you like them, when you want to say all those things you’re afraid to during the day? That’s what I think this refers to. Write drunk, because you want to give those thoughts a chance to be heard, because you know that if you don’t say them now then you probably never will.
    And the best part? Unlike real life, if you’re not happy with a cringeworthy thought the next day, you can just delete it forever!

    • Ok – I LOVE your analogy to that point in the night where you just want to run around hugging everyone and telling them how much you love them. THAT is exactly the kind of free-flowing elation that can unleash our words in new and maybe more truthful ways. Writers write in part because they need to express their emotions about everything around them – just like that person closing the bar at the end of the night, saying, “I love you guys!” 😉

      Thanks for sharing.

    • I would hope that no one HAS to drink in order to write. The question is more about exploring if/how a cocktail affects your writing or your experience of writing.

      I write all day long for my business clients and would NEVER partake of any alcoholic concoction while on the job … not even a splash of Bailey’s in my cocoa.

      Off hours, working on my own projects (and blog posts), I would, however, entertain the possibility of a little something-something to lubricate my gray matter. 😉

      TKS for coming by!

  15. Let’s begin with noting that Hemingway committed suicide. I think this is dangerous advice. Writing is a discipline. Drinking is recreation — or avoidance of life’s problems, for those who have a problem with it. The romance of writing while intoxicated doesn’t seem to end up well for the writers (mainly men) who recommend it.

    See the marvelous “Drinking: A Love Story” by the late Carolyn Knapp.

    • There is certainly a fine line to walk, Amy. I agree. And there are many tragedies that have taken place over the ages – writing-related and not.

      As in all things, moderation is key.

      Thanks for the reading recommendation!

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