“Write drunk; edit sober”



This oft-quoted advice is usually attributed to Ernest Hemingway, although verification is illusive. I like the quote, though. I’ve even tried the first part a couple of times out of desperation to get some writing done, hoping a little wine would silence the inner critic that ties me in knots.

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, after a glass or two of wine, I just tend to fall asleep, which is not very conducive to writing. images

The concept holds true, though. Alcohol tends to make one uninhibited and that is, after all, the best way to write. My favorite way of simulating the “write drunk” credo is to write really fast, outpacing the detractor.

A case in point: When I wrote a memoir piece for an anthology (see Slants of Light), I had to dig deep into an old wound. Three or four ten-minute sprints produced the gist of the story. (I used Shimmering Images by Lisa Dale Norton as my guide.) I won’t say that was the easy part, but once I’d ripped the bandaid off and bled onto the page, I could sit back and see the patterns in the splatter.

A bit dramatic, perhaps, but writing fast enough to drown out the censoring voices works for any kind of writing. It is only when we write without worrying about consequences that we honor our own truth.

But fast, free, unfettered writing is only half the story. Just as imbibing a little fruit of the grape in the evening can bring on a headache in the morning, facing your uncensored scribblings might take some aspirin and a strong cuppa Joe.


Now it’s time to slow down and let the inner critics catch up. No, not the ones who only offer vague, destructive, smart-ass remarks like, “This really sucks” or “Go back to bed; you’ll never be a writer.” But rather the voices–internal and external–that are your allies in the creative process.

To continue with my earlier example, I subjected the same anthology piece to three critique sessions and multiple revisions before I deemed it worthy of publication. Writing “drunk” (or a facsimile thereof) can allow your subconscious to bring forth ideas that might otherwise never see the light. Some clearheaded editing can shape those thoughts into even more powerful prose.

imagesSo that is my creative process. How about you? Do you write a fast first draft, then painstakingly edit? Or do you edit as you go?


8 thoughts on ““Write drunk; edit sober”

  1. Hey Patty, this is a great testament to how writers have to battle against their own negative voices. I really commend you for your perseverance and motivation.
    I haven’t been doing much writing lately, but I would have to say that I’m a write it down fast and edit later kind of girl. I try not to think too much when I’m writing, or I will second guess every word. I think the most important part of writing for me is knowing what I want to say and to just spit it out. Then the second step is writing it in a way that my reader can not only understand what I’m saying, but hopefully also be able to relate to it.
    Good luck in your writing journey!

    • Thanks, Candice. It’s having friends like you that keep me going. I hope you can get back to writing soon; I want to read those “not my guy” stories. 🙂

  2. I write a shitty first draft then edit at least three times. Sometimes many more. I quit before it gets painful and go back later. I try to amuse myself. Sometimes I run away from tough stuff. Other times, I try to tackle it. Writers like you inspire me to keep at it,

    • Thanks, Diane. I’ve never known you to run away from the tough stuff, and treating it with humor is a particular talent of yours.

  3. That depends. When I’m writing during NaNoWriMo, I write like mad with no stopping. Any other time of year, I’m a serial editor — I edit as I write. It saves a little time on the revisions. But it’s too easy to get stuck in edit mode, so I remind myself to have what I call a “What the hell” moment, as in “What the hell — I can change it later.”

    • “What the hell”–that’s a great way to get unstuck. NaNoWriMo–talk about writing “drunk”! The highs and lows of pushing myself to the extreme to write 50,000 words in 30 days. I often felt inebriated. I learned so much from that experience. Now when I get stuck on a scene or can’t work out a certain passage, I’ll close my laptop, get out the notebook and pen, and set a timer for a 10-minute “word sprint.” It never fails to help me move forward.

      Thanks for following!

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