“Write Drunk, Edit Sober” Is Bad Advice

Hemingway never wrote drunk. Despite the quote being misattributed to him, the famous author apparently never said, “Write drunk, edit sober.” And if he did say it, he certainly didn’t practice what he preached.

Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway Collection. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

According to his granddaughter Mariel, “Papa” never wrote while under the influence. “That’s not how he wrote,” she said in an interview. “He never wrote drunk, he never wrote beyond early, early morning.”

So why do people go on believing this about him?

“I think it’s the misperception of addiction and living life on the edge,” Mariel said, “as if it’s cool.”

Obviously, it’s not. Still, the myth of art and addiction persists — and not just for Hemingway. 

We all do this. We believe false ideas about what makes a person successful. Athletes put their socks on in the same order every time. Musicians conduct pre-concert rituals that have nothing to do with the music.

Chances are you have your odd quirks, too. We are all weird in our own ways. But why do we think these quirks are what make us creative? They’re not.

Who cares?

Who really cares if Hemingway said this or not? Maybe it’s good to have a bottle of wine beside you while working on a novel. Maybe Don Draper is on to something with the fully-stocked liquor cabinet in the ad agency office. Then again, maybe not.

Such an idea, as harmless as it seems, might be more detrimental than we realize. 

“Write drunk, edit sober” is bad advice for two reasons:

  1. It glorifies addiction. Maybe you’ve never known an addict or been one yourself, but I can tell you — it’s hell. I’ve seen addiction ruin more than one person’s life. It’s not fun or funny. It’s destructive, which is actually the very opposite of creativity.
  2. It propagates the myth of creativity. It treats art as merely whimsical, not serious. Writing is work, not something silly anybody can do without discipline.

We would never say this of other crafts. You would never nod understandingly if a plumber came to your house, completely wasted, assuring you he’d return to clean up the mess when sober. That would be ridiculous.

But we do this every day with the arts, taking them less seriously than we do other trades. We excuse addiction or obsession as part of the process, not fully understanding the implications of such allowances.

Do the work

Writing, as William Zinsser writes, is a craft. Not some esoteric art we only understand under the influence. It’s hard work and ought to be treated as such.

So why do we persist in believing otherwise? Because it’s easier. It’s more pleasant to protect ourselves from the pain than to face the work we dread. We are, in essence, procrastinating when we rattle of such quotes as, “write drunk, edit sober.”

Maybe this is because we like the idea of creativity more than the work it requires. That’s often true for me. I would rather call myself a writer and enjoy the prestige and attention that attracts than get up before sunrise to write a blog post.

One has the appearances of being creative without the discomfort. And isn’t that what we all want, sometimes? To look a certain way without having earned it?

So here is my wish for you. If you aspire to be creative, may you not hide behind cliches but instead do the brave, beautiful work of making something new. In the end, it’s more rewarding than merely talking about it.

What myths about creativity have you been believing? Share in the comments.

177 thoughts on ““Write Drunk, Edit Sober” Is Bad Advice

  1. Sometimes my writing doesn’t feel like work and I feel guilty about that. However, the self-doubt and the mental and emotional roller coaster I’m on DOES feel like work. Sometimes I think I run a hundred miles before I sit down at the computer and easily (most of the time) write out a poem. Then I think about the training I had from excellent teachers in college and how that all comes into play when I write. There is a lot of work that goes into writing long before I actually write something.

    hummm…..I need to give this more thought.

  2. This isn’t a myth, but I cringe when I read some fiction author bios that list their master’s degrees in various subjects as if it will make them a better writer. (Creative writing courses, not withstanding.) Granted, if someone is writing a non-fiction book on forensic science for instance, a degree in forensic science would certainly lend credibility to their work. But, for a vast majority of books, life experiences and the practice of writing, learning the craft, and being open to objective critiquing is all that is necessary to make a good book. I’m certainly not against anyone having a college degree, but don’t flaunt a degree in medical science if you’re writing a dystopian novel. It isn’t necessary and can serve to make more insecure writers doubt their abilities, thinking they need some type of degree in order to be published. (And I’ll get off my soapbox now.)

    1. Absosmurfly. Anyone requiring someone to have a Piled Higher & Deeper in order to think is someone who doesn’t think.

  3. Good words. I used to use all kinds of drugs to fuel my creative process, but I ended up a heroin addict and my life imploded. The addiction took all my creativity away and almost killed me in the process. I’m so thankful God pulled me out of that nosedive. Almost four years sober and I feel like I’m starting to hit my creative stride.

  4. Well. I for one never took the quote literally. I took it to mean “when you’re writing, write with reckless abandon and without a single self-critical thought in your head. get high from your love of writing and let it rip. THEN… ‘sober up’ and look at what you wrote, more critically, and edit wherever needed’. Chalk it up right up there as one of the most misunderstood (or mis-quoted, whatever) writer quotes ever…

    1. Yeah, that’s how I’ve taken it too. I haven’t thought of Hemingway as an alcoholic, but that he was simply saying what Juho says. As to whether he said it or not, there’s always this quote:
      “The trouble with quotes on the Internet is that it’s difficult to determine whether or not they are genuine” – Abraham Lincoln

  5. Thought provoking, Jeff. I can’t really speak to writing drunk, I didn’t find the joy and beauty of writing until I was sober (had my last drink nearly 13 years ago, started writing shortly after that.) But, it seems almost contradictory to me. I drank to escape and avoid life. I write to live life and to FEEL life… the good the bad and the ugly. I’m sure there might be folks who claim to be better creators while they drink…but I don’t think I would fall into that category…unless we are talking about drinking coffee. Coffee makes me a brilliant writer! 😉

    1. Love that last quote Eileen, and that’s true for me also, but I have found that even coffee can distract me when not consumed in moderation. After more than a couple of cups I just want to buzz around doing a bunch of trivial hyper stuff.

      1. Very true, Annette. I’ve experienced those “too much of a good thing” moments with coffee…I end up with clean toilets or washed dishes instead of more words on a page. 🙂

  6. I’d have to politely disagree. Some of my best stuff has come from late night drunkenness because, for me, I am completely uninhibited. When you’re frequently wrestling demons and the words aren’t coming on an otherwise sober day, sometimes a bit of inebriation does in fact help.

    We have to remember that every writer has their own way of doing things and it doesn’t make them any less of a serious writer because they got drunk one night (or five) and penned their memoir. It ever so slightly smacks of arrogance when you suggest it’s treating art as whimsical rather than serious because a creator chose to be drunk when creating.

    Personally, I take my writing quite seriously but I’ll be the first to admit that a little bit of drunkenness on occasion is good for my soul and my writing.

  7. Greetings Jeff. I enjoy your posts (which I receive as e-mails) as a professional writer myself.

    Unquestionably, I’m in accord with your essential message here. However, I’m not sure that the quote (regardless of who actually said or wrote it) needs to be taken literally. And if we let ourselves take the “drunk” and “sober” adjectives here figuratively, I believe that then the quote makes perfect sense and gives us wise, rather than hedonistic, advice.

    To elaborate, I will post the following, which I found when I followed one of your post’s links:

    [T]he quote is almost certainly by a novelist called Peter De Vries. He published a novel called ‘Reuben, Reuben’ in 1964, where the main character is based on a famous drunkard poet, Dylan Thomas. On page 242 the character says this:

    “Sometimes I write drunk and revise sober, and sometimes I write sober and revise drunk. But you have to have both elements in creation — the Apollonian and the Dionysian, or spontaneity and restraint, emotion and discipline.”

    1. That’s how I have always understood it Brant. I believe the “drunk” type of writing in this quotation means writing with abandon, no inhibitions, silencing that inner critic and THEN, editing with a more sober, critical eye.

  8. My grandfather was an alcoholic; a brilliant man, but not when he was drunk. And, yeah, it was hell for all of us. I appreciate your message here Jeff. I think we do have to stop associating creativity with addiction or substance abuse, specifically. Artists can be fuelled by all sorts of things (addiction, depression, social injustice, life experience…) to create. But, creativity and its crafts (writing, painting, design…) absolutely require hard work and discipline. They can be achieved brilliantly without the stereotype of substances. I think, in the end, our creativity is shaped by our lives. I suppose that can include substances, but thankfully, it doesn’t have to!

    1. Thanks for sharing, Julie-Anne. I’m sorry you had to go through that.

      I think what we learn from this, or at least what I learn, is that the adversity itself (the addiction, recovery, poverty, etc.) is not what makes the artist. It’s the perseverances and strength they must muster in face of these things.

      1. Agreed, when sorrow shapes our faith, when the sorrows of life it can either usher freedom or more baggage. Our choice to be inspired by what we have seen, changed or affected. And the strength we learn along the way.

  9. It wasn’t until the past few years that I began to make improvements as a writer. I finally realized that WRITING. IS. WORK. It’s some of the hardest work that a person can do, because it involves using every part of your mental faculties. I used to wait for the muse to strike me, and I would only write when I was in a creative mood. I learned the hard way–I’m sure many of us have–that you never really produce any work that way.
    I have also known a few weed smokers over the years who thought that they were more creative when they were high. One of them only smoked weed because he thought it made him more creative. I finally helped him to realize that being high doesn’t make you more creative; it only only helps you to buy into the delusion that you’re more creative. What actually happens is that the part of your brain that filters and revises things before you say them aloud takes a nap. While that may seem like a good thing, because the little editor in our edits can be quite damaging, it also serves an important function as well. When this weed smoker finally looked at work with sober eyes, he saw that it was unintelligible and unreadable.

    1. Lucas, yes. This: “being high doesn’t make you more creative; it only only helps you to buy into the delusion that you’re more creative.”

      I would argue that extends to the high of feeling inspired, as well.

  10. You so right! This is true even of educators. I fall into that rut myself. Thanks for sharing in such a lucid manner what I have felt for a long time.

  11. This is such a refreshing post. In a world that glorifies addiction, I’m so glad to see someone who understands the determentle effect.

  12. Funny, I wrote a blog post yesterday discussing the very thing, using Hemingway, Faulkner and Fitzgerald as the exemplars of drunken writers (and speaking of critics who have suggested the drink may have fueled the creativity). I thought not, though my post is all about how to make barreled cocktails, being a cocktail enthusiast myself—though not when I’m writing.

    I like that Flaubert quote, that’s a bit of the converse thought (it’s seen various ways, but this one is good enough): “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” Not that I think you should be THAT orderly in your life …

  13. HL Mencken was a pretty famous drinker, but he also never drank while on the job. Plenty afterward, but he was strictly teetotal while writing.

  14. You are right about writing being hard work. I know that I have in the past thought I had to wait until my muse came to visit. Unfortunately, with life being so hectic, my muse apparently decided to stay away. Now I find that if I sit down to work, she often pops in to help; she just didn’t want to do all the work herself.

  15. I disagree that “writing drunk” is about being more creative when you’re drinking. I have always felt that it is about a lack of inhibition. Fear and over-thinking is what keeps me from writing, even privately cuz what if someone finds my private work and thinks I’m a moron; that carefree attitude when drunk is awful tempting for me. Unfortunately for my writing, but fortunate enough for my family I come from a thick line of alcoholics and the one time I’ve ever been drunk was more than enough for me-now I rarely have more than one margarita in a year. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve wished I could just get drunk enough to shut out the negative voices in my head, only to have images from my childhood, my children’s faces replacing mine and my siblings, reminding me why I won’t take up drinking.

  16. I’ve always thought of that quote as meaning the state of mind you’re in when writing and editing, not necessarily _really_ drunk and sober…. When I’m doing my best writing, I often feel drunk, and I let things go, I don’t have inhibition about what I’m saying. And when I do my best editing, I feel much more straight and clear headed and am much more strict. I never even thought of taking it literally…. That’s funny.

    1. I think that’s true, Juliet. Letting go can be good. My point here was that not only does this glorify addiction, but that aside, it makes light of a serious process. You don’t hear carpenters and mechanics feeling “inspired” to do their work. Still, does their craft require any less care or artistry?

  17. Tim McGraw thought he needed alcohol to prep before performing live. Then he quit and found out he didn’t need it. How many books were never written because the alcoholic, famous author committed suicide? If you’re not an alcoholic and a few drinks loosens up the muse, fine. But I lean toward recommending clarity of thought. That’s my two cents! Thanks, Jeff.

    1. I get that. And I’m sure that’s the idea behind the post. The problem is twofold:

      1) Many people take this literally.
      2) Even not taken literally, I still don’t get the idea. It makes creativity whimsical, as if you have to feel inspired to do it. It’s never been that way for me.

      The gist of the post is this: writing is work. Either do it, or don’t. Drunk or sober. High on life or down in the dumps. You need to treat it like a job, not a mania to be chased.

    2. Whether it is or not, I have been seeing other posts about how alcohol and drugs are supposed to free peoples creativity. Or they ask that question. So I like that this is being presented to clear up sad misconceptions. I mentioned meditation is best. Every one is unique, but I think he made some valid points!

  18. I never took this quote to mean that you should actually get drunk on alcohol. I always understood it to mean “write with abandon, revise carefully.” I think this article is much ado about nothing.

    1. I actually prefer the Ray Bradbury quote, “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” 🙂

  19. “we like the idea of creativity more than the work it requires.”

    This. Me. For years. 🙁 (Funnily enough, it’s kind of an addiction.)

    But I’m learning. Yes, it’s work. But it is beautiful work. If we sit ourselves down in that chair and do it. No beauty can exist unless the work is done.

    (I heart your post, as usual, Jeff.)

    1. I heard that most creative people, especially artist and writers struggle with depression – so do doctors, dentists, firemen, etc. As does the woman down the block; the gray haired guy in the stuffy office; and the teenager lost in a crowd. Writers aren’t unique in the sense of addiction; writers are unique because they write, plain and simple. Now, we’re you to pitch that writing is in the genes, maybe then I’d have to agree.

  20. You always know what to say, at least what I need to hear. Thank you brave heart for showing us how to write our stories. Who cares about the quote, the hard part is writing our honest stories to the world, and to ourselves out loud. Our stories are needed, we need to be honest that IS hard work. We are indeed an imperfect people. No more hiding behind a message that could bring freedom to many. In my overcoming the battle of a life-time, I am owning my story in losing 132 lbs. Yes, in one decision I have changed my life, but also in one decision, I have uncovered the true authentic me. And friends, I am so glad that I have found me. It’s about time this lug head says it. I am free to be me, a writer with a powerful story to tell the world. Watch out world, the honest writers of this world will write sober, real, powerful, stuff. Stuff that changes lives, stuff that brings change and stuff that affects change in others. May we all be brave enough to write our stories. The world needs more bravery, more courage, and more honesty. You can spend your whole life thinking you are the only one messed up, well, there are many out there that need our stories to show what bravery looks like. Not to highlight our hiccups, hangups and slow giddy-ups but to show the world needs more courage, freedom and honesty. Sign me up, I’m in. Signed authentically me. Janelle Keith, one story teller with a story that is worth sharing.

  21. I really like to read something you write new, you create outstanding. Have you ever written something to worth reading Jeff? Or are you just making up a life by telling how to write but writing really nothing?

  22. I’ll take the other side of all these bets. The choice is never between teetotal sobriety and alcoholism. That’s what teetotalers think. The muse is somewhere in between, and the summoning agent is not always alcohol—there are other, milder forms of distracting the narrowly focused mind into creative woolgathering. At least, for me.

  23. Great article, Jeff. This comment has always bothered me. I hate that drinking and art are glorified and sooooo interconnected. We don’t have to be drunk or mentally ill to be creative. That being said, much art comes from suffering. But, I think it is a way for us to make sense of the senseless, not just as fodder for our art.

    1. yes, the sense in the senseless. Well said. Love that. When pain shapes our faith, I like to phrase it that way too.

  24. I agree that we like to think there’s an easy fix for complex problems. “Write drunk. Edit sober.” makes it sound fun–instead of the agonizing work it can be. Also, the word “drunk” is very different than having a drink.

    Not only does it glorify addiction, can I suggest that it might actually cause addiction. In general, I think the average person is a follower. I can’t help but think someone who struggles to write could hear this advice and believe that if they get drunk they will be able to be creative. …they will be able to beak free of their inhibitions and create something worth editing later.

    This might sound silly, but I remember when I was 16 and working my first job at a supermarket, I was told to take my “coffee break”. At home I always drank tea. I started drinking coffee because “I guess that’s what they drink here.” It wasn’t a big deal, but it did demonstrate the power of suggestion.

  25. Stephen King was famously addicted to a variety of substances at some point in his career. I remember reading in his book on the art of writing that he really enjoys reading some of books, but that there is one (Bruno?) that he really wishes he could REMEMBER writing. Addiction and a career in writing can go hand in hand, but I think it’s overstating the case (just a little bit) to say that the saying, “Write drunk, edit sober” glorifies addiction.

    Perhaps the deeper point is that that it is better to get something down on paper, disregarding inhibitions and perfection, and to come back later and clean it up. When I write, I want it to be perfect THE FIRST TIME, so I often end up not writing at all. I don’t write drunk, but I do push myself to just write, and worry about the technicalities later. Habitually relying on chemical jumpstarts to do ANYTHING, including writing, is a good way to wreck your brain and your talent pretty quickly. Jeff’s point about doing the work and grinding it out should be taken seriously. Writing can be a chore, and if you’re a writer, you should get comfortable doing your chores.

    1. You might want to read Stephen King’s book, On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft. He almost died from his addictions, until his wife gave him the ultimatum. You will think differently if you hear his own story.

      1. Agreed. In fact while writing that book he still hadn’t overcome all his addictions. He said he doesn’t remember writing some of his books and really regretted that.

      2. I was unclear in what I said. I did read the book. He was (is?) an addict, and he doesn’t like the maxim either.

        The author of the Jack Reacher novels, on the other hand, smokes a little weed when he gets writer’s block and still swears by it.

        Every writer is an individual, and some are perhaps more prone to substance abuse than others. Stephen King’s addiction is a cautionary tale for all us would-be writers.

    2. Great point, Justin. You’re right in that this may be a little simplistic. I love what you said: “writing can be a chore, and if you’re a writer, you should get comfortable doing your chores.” Well put!

    3. That’s so true Justin about relying on chemical jumpstarts to do anything. Many students give in to that temptation to keep themselves going and quite often pay for it. I escape in other ways sometimes to avoid writing. I need a tribe to keep me motivated. I’ve been a slacker since I had to quit my writing group of five years. .

  26. I agree we should clear up the sad misconceptions. For me my creativity is increased with discipline which includes meditation and prayer. Even charting down dreams helps. I do that on a regular basis too. Every one is unique in their ways, but substances to increase creativity is destroying it. It is of ones soul and there is no substitute.

    1. Fascinating, Teresa. Thanks for sharing. I agree. Also, I think discipline begets more discipline. Learning how to focus in prayer has made me a better writer and affected other areas of my life, as well.

  27. I just want to say I’m glad you are addressing this issue. And I want to respond to one of the statements you made.

    “Write drunk, edit sober” is bad advice for two reasons: 1. It glorifies addiction. Maybe you’ve never known an addict or been one yourself, but I can tell you — it’s hell. I’ve seen addiction ruin more than one person’s life. It’s not fun or funny. It’s destructive, which is actually the very opposite of creativity.”

    I just want to say my dad was addicted to food and would fly into rages grabbing his belt and letting us all run for cover. You’re right, it IS hell and you spend the rest of your life trying to process why it even had to happen. Anyone who glorifies addiction clearly has never been the recipient of one who is addicted. The inner scars take a long time to heal, if they ever do.

    I am curious though as to why you chose this topic.

    1. Hey Anne. Great question (and sorry to hear about you having to grow up around that). I chose this topic for two reason:

      1) Because I was tired of hearing people misattribute this quote to Hemingway.

      2) Because I was tired of the over-glorification of the “glamorous” side of writing (drinking, feeling inspired, etc.). I wanted to point out that even the man to whom the quote was attribute (albeit mistakenly) didn’t practice such a routine. The indulgent life had little to do with the work.

      What made Hemingway a writer wasn’t the drinking or the cavorting; it was the work.

      That’s why I wrote this.

  28. There is a time and a place for everything . . . Currently there are many 30 something writers/bloggers/spiritual guides that are “sober” and killing it. As if being sober is a notch on the other side of the belt. Waving the sober flag is, well, just that–waving a flag. Maybe moderation is the key to creativity?

    I personally think some projects lend themselves to drinking–like changing the oil, mowing the lawn, putting in a new garbage disposal . . . yet, I also think that there is a certain romance to being alone with a drink and a keyboard.

    Again, there is a time and a place for everything. And to everything there is a season . . .

    1. There totally is that romance, Renee. And you’re right: moderation is important. It’s my opinion, though, that the “key” to creativity is discipline. Not inspiration or booze or any other quick fix. Just doing the work. That’s why I wrote this piece.

      That said, will inspiration come? Can good work come from a bout of “drunkenness”? Of course. But just as epiphanies come, so do they go. And I maintain that what sustains a creative life, what makes a writer for that matter, is the willingness to get up every day and do it all over again.

      Interestingly, I just discovered this Writer’s Digest interview with Hemingway where he talks about how every writer has to find his/her own way but one essential is doing the work every day:


  29. I get that the quote is a metaphor but this is still a good article. The romance of the dark, mysterious, bad boy writer is intoxicating for many people. I am guilty of this. I have a wicked crush on Hank Moody in “Californication”, partly because of the whole glamorous writer thing and partly because I have a self-flagellating history with bad boys, ahem. Oh the stories I could tell. But I digress. If you’ve grown up in an alcoholic family in which everything involves a cocktail, boozing should lose is mysteriousness one would think, but not always in a highly functioning alcoholic family. But writing drunk is not pretty, sexy or effective. All that said, the way you wrote the article drove the gist of it home very well. And that, for me, is that being a great writer is not having some whimsical, esoteric gift but is a self-disciplined, well-practice, and learned craft. Thanks again, Jeff.

  30. I beleive writing is an art, and a craft. And that alleged advice about writing drink is bad advice.

    I would never glorify or advocate any addiction.

    Writing is work. But it’s also art. It’s abstract. Some of the best writing comes without any planning, strategy or anything like that. And some great writing can be spontaneous.

    If we want to write regularly, if we want to become the best writers we can, we need discipline. We need to accept it’s work. It’s not all romanticised. I totally agree with you there.

    But it’s also important to allow for spontaneity in writing, for randomness, for something unplanned.

    We can all follow the plan to become successful – but not every strategy works for everyone, and not every plan is guaranteed, and what works for one doesn’t always work for the rest.

    But one thing does unite us. We need to do the work. We need discipline to write regularly and pursue it seriously.

    But we must always allow for spontaneity and randomness too.

    Although I get the plumber metaphor, totally, writing is different from installing a toilet – it’s creativity, it’s bringing something from inside of us to life.

    We need to be at our healthiest to our best work in one sense, but sometimes it’s when our lives are broken and messed up, and we don’t have it all together, we produce great work.

    I would never recommend addiction. I think we create better work without it. And we should never romanticise writing.

    But we don’t need to have it all together to produce great work. Sometimes it’s the work produced in the mess which is the most powerful.

    I am not disagreeing with you Jeff Goins, not at all. I agree with what you said. Maybe I am just adding to it, or offering a complimentary view, or expanding on it.

    Great post. Loved it. Lots of truth. Just wanted to add something (and it’s turned out to be my writing for today too!).

    To be clear – addictions are terrible. I’ve seen alcoholism at first hand and it causes terrible damage, it’s not romantic or fun, it’s painful and sometimes violent. But we must not be afraid to acknowledge our dark side and write from there, is all I am saying.

    1. James–I would argue that installing a toilet does not require creativity–there is definitely an art form to finding the perfect toilet for the job! I make every single one of my mundane tasks an exercise in creativity and beauty. Each time anyone offers their heart to the opportunity before them . . . it is art.

    2. To paraphrase another great writer, we need spontaneity in our writing, but we need also to ensure that we’re spontaneous at 9 am every morning. 🙂

      Regarding romanticism vs work, I’m beginning to discover just how valuable it is to find the voices of the characters and let them tell their story. This serves a number of purposes:
      1) If it feels like work, it’s probably because I haven’t found the characters’ voices and/or I’m not letting them tell their story (this is inevitable in the beginning, which is probably why starting a story is such a hill to climb).
      2) I’m serving them (the characters, their story), so there is no room for any writer romanticising!

      Anyway, just throwing my granular thoughts out there. Hope it helps someone. I love your writing for the day, James. 🙂

  31. I, too, have fallen for myths about creativity and creative people. I admit I have believed the following: Creative people are disorganized, undisciplined and “flighty”. Thanks for dispelling these Jeff.

  32. I agree; writing is like any other craft which requires training, practice and dedication. I think the misconception about art; be it writing, acting, singing, music, painting etc comes from the plight of the creative mind. There are many creative people who do unfortunately have ‘issues’ (be they tough upbringings, horrific stories, a search for significance, a low self esteem etc) which can lead to addiction and substance abuse. These are the stories which plague the news and fuel these types of misconceptions. They are of course the minority, but they in themselves make great stories for the press.

  33. People know me as a very creative person in a variety of different things. But I have never felt comfortable calling myself any of those specific titles because I haven’t put the work in. I’ve played the guitar since I was 16, and for about 6 years have played in a public form but I never call myself a guitarist because I only ever learn enough to get by… Always finding the easiest way to get the job done not fine tuning my craft and understanding it. The true artists I feel like are the ones that have really put the work in. They deserve the title. I just know how to play a guitar.

  34. Much like people quoting Marie Antoinette for saying “Let them eat cake.”

    These days you could probably make up any random line and pretend it was said by some historic figure and people would spread it like a wildfire.

    This really ties into the podcast episode w/ Tim Ferriss interviewing Kevin Kelly. They touch on the topic of some many people having this impression of “success” when in reality it’s not as grand as it appears.

    I would agree with your take on this. Tho I don’t really think it’s “glorifying” being drunk. It think it’s more of a “catchy phrase that stuck” kinda thing… Because of all the people I know who have spread this, none of them have actually acted on it in the literal sense.

  35. I have believed that whole idea that you have to be struck by lightning to write something. I think we have those moments, but they do not eliminate the work we have to put in.

  36. Some people are saying that the adage “Write Drunk, Edit Sober” isn’t meant to be taken literally, but there are plenty of writers who have followed that practice, usually to disastrous results. The drink loosens them up a bit, but they never learn how to free themselves up without it.

    If drunkenness is meant as a metaphor for spontaneity, then it’s a misleading one. The kind of spontaneity that is needed when writing a first draft is not the same as the kind of spontaneity one gets from having a drink or two. What is called for is a paradoxical combination of spontaneity and control, what we get only through practice. when we don’t need to think about what we are doing and the words just flow.

    Ideally, we would like to be able to produce rough draft text that has the vitality of something produced spontaneously and the focus and control of a skillful writer, the kind of draft that doesn’t so much editing that the life is edited out of it. In practice, we can hope that our spontaneous writings improve the more we work on them and study our craft.

    It must be pointed out that there’s a disproportionate number of great writers and other creative artists who are alcoholic, suicidal, or bipolar, three forms of dysfunction that often go together. Hemingway exhibited the first two dysfunctions and many think that he also had the third. The late actor and comedian Robin Williams is an example that is fresh on people’s minds. It might be that seeing extreme highs and lows contributes to a particular kind of artistic vision. If so, the drinking shouldn’t be seen as the cause of the creativity but as a way of self-medication.

    In any case, most bipolar individuals are not especially creative, and most creative people are not mentally ill. The artistic vision of the individual is not inherently superior to that of the healthy person.

    There’s a lot of romanticism about the drunken artist and the mad artist that ought to be dispensed with.

  37. Thank you so much for this Jeff! I write a personal development and mental health website and the amount of people (including some friends) who have replied when I said I wanted to ‘work’ that ‘writing isn’t work, you’re not even getting paid for it’ is beggars belief. I DO have to work at it especially when my mind is thinking quicker than I know what to type.

    Thank you for justifying that my words and indeed writing are work!

  38. Thank you! I’ve always disliked the depressed/addicted creative writer stereotype, especially as I personally need a sense of well-being to write well. That means no addiction, no depression! It’s important for writers to take care of ourselves first, and then direct that nurtured energy into writing work. Hopefully better work and more life-affirming authors will change public perception, but since most of our work is a bit mysterious to others, that may never happen. It’s more important to change our own perceptions.

  39. That’s a good article and I agree 100%, but would still like to add the following:

    Addiction is less the cause of creativity and more often the symptom – I think here, as happens so often, many people mix up cause and effect. The urge to indulge in abusive substances and the urge to create art often come from the same origin, the same psychological spot inside: Going to the extreme, feeling intense emotions, world weariness. While the notions and character traits that enabled Hemingway to produce his beautiful tales were the very same ones that got him to drinking, these traits were not the cause for his substance abuse.

    Also, I wouldn’t want to go the route of drinking myself into oblivion, because I like life and plan on living a couple more years. Drugs are always an escape gate as well. But at the same time, I wouldn’t want to touch on anybody’s right to self-destruct…

  40. You are 100% spot on correct. I should know. I am a recovering alcoholic. I have been sober for over 24 years. Everything I ever did while drinking or drunk turned into to a big pile of stinking excrement. From a physiologic perspective, the fist drink of alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant. Every drink after the first is a CNS depressant. Since my problem was never just one drink I can tell you the effects of chronic daily alcohol consumption are never good. It robs you of your creativity. It makes you apathetic. Nothing ever gets done or completed. I wrote something once while drunk. When I read it sober it didn’t make a lick of sense.
    I think a another popular myth is in order to be creative you must suffer. Certainly a descent into darkness (I had mine), an epic struggle, followed by a journey out of darkness and into the light is an age old storyline that makes for good reading. But, it is not a requirement to create great art. I fact, I would advise against human suffering if you can avoid it. It is just that so many people do suffer. Many that overcome their suffering write about it which helps those that are still suffering. I think this is where this myth originated. Creating great art requires only one thing, a singularity of purpose – passion.

  41. Seems like people decide someone is either creative or not. I believe everyone is creative in one way or another. My engineer husband is creative. My sports-focused 8th grader is creative. My hygienist best friend is creative. We are all creative in unique ways, and it all takes work. I used to believe you were either a creative type or not. That is a myth. Everyone has some type of creativity in them, and we just can’t put creativity in a box.

  42. I always took the quote as a reminder to write without inhabitations, without reservation and then approach editing critically, weighing each sentence, paragraph, page.
    Thanks for the reminder to never make light of addiction, regardless of the intent.

    1. Yeah, using the word drunk is more a metaphor for not using a mind that’s too careful & calculated for the initial output of creative flow, then afterwards when you
      edit, you use a much more calculated mind to polish things,

      The use of the word drunk can give connotations that imply
      writing is a haphazard process, so thanks Jeff for making the truth clear

  43. Oh well yes, I have lived under that impression for long when I thought I could write better or even express better when I was high, I could totally relate to this post. Later I realized, it is just a perception of mind and creativity has gt nothing to do with drugs or sedatives or even alcohols for that matter. It could only worsen the situation and effect your memory as well

  44. You may not agree with “Write drunk; Edit sober.” But it is a great BRANDING strategy. It sure worked for Hemingway.

  45. I think people still don’t connect creativity and work. It also doesn’t help that a slew of famous authors had drinking problems and/or mental illnesses.. so I guess it makes it seem like that’s the ticket. While those things often occur in creative people, it certainly isn’t the cause of their creativity :p

  46. I so agree with this Jeff. Addiction isn’t funny, and artists need to respect themselves and their crafts more. We’re not just hacks, we’ve studied and practiced and sweated and invested time and money.

    As artists, we’re in the public eye. People look up to us for doing things they think they never could do. So what kind of legacy do we want to leave and what example do we set? I hope mine’s a positive and healthy one.

  47. Good of you to call out the stereotype and correct it. In the writer community, this is important and for those seeking to follow advice. On the other hand, I never took the quote literally. To me it means write in a carefree way, letting go of your rules, your inhibitions, your limitations. Be creative and allow yourself room. Later, be the adult; be the editor; clean it up.

      1. Skip is right. This quote, whoever said it, is a metaphor and not to be taken literally. As a college composition instructor I have used this quote as a fun way to get new writers to not worry about editing until they’ve drafted lots of content first… editing too soon gets in the way of creativity and allowing yourself to actually say something significant. So many students who could be great writers think they can’t because they’ve been taught to focus on correct grammar in lieu of expressing their ideas.

  48. I tend to think Hemingway’s exploits generally are blown out of proportion. Partially due to his own willingness to play up his own hype. But also to the passion he inspired in people.

    Certainly does seem to be a lot of us writers who have had our problems with the sauce though.

    In my mind the calculation isn’t as simple as drunk = creative or sober = not creative or vice versa.

    Thoughtful piece. It really got me thinking.

  49. Jeff,
    a writer with over twenty years as a recovering drunk/addict, I appreciate your post, and I agree with almost all the comments. Many many years ago, I met Charles Bukowski. We talked about writing a few times—mostly argued. He was a raging drunk, and I suspect that he never wrote anything without being under the influence of some mind altering substance. But Bukowski was—let’s just say, not a nice person at all. And neither was I at the time. I think he would’ve been a better writer, and certainly a better person, if he had not been a chronic alcoholic.

    Sometimes I use the screen name Drunkespeare. I don’t lay claim Drunkespeare being an original nickname, any more than a professional boxer can claim originality to “Sugar” or “Killer.” My screen name is a reminder of the years of being a raging drunk and junkie, with a burning desire to become a great writer. It took years of sobriety to realize that greatness is not necessary. But writing is absolutely necessary. I now live comfortably with myself knowing that I write the best stories I can. And, as you often point
    out, writing the best stories I can requires a lot of work, and having my mind as clear as it can be.

    If you or any of your followers are interested in a great unromanticized book about writing and alcoholism, I strongly recommend “Those Drinking Days: Myself and Other Writers,” by Donald Newlove. I hope that great book is still in print.

    I believe that if a practicing drunk or addict writes anything interesting, it is purely accidental. And whatever he or she has written would’ve been much better if written soberly.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post, and the thoughtful comments.

    Lamont E. Wilkins

    aka Drunkespeare


    1. Wow. Thank you for sharing, Lamont. I am humbled by your thoughtful comment and honored that you were vulnerable enough to let us experience some of your sorry. I’m grateful.

  50. Jeff,

    I appreciate your email. I’m new at social media and commenting on blogs. For a couple of years, I’ve been planning to become a blogger. One thing or another got it the way. But I’m ready now. When I first started looking into what this blogging thingy is all about, yours was one of the first blogs I read. Think I went to it because it’s on a list of Best Blogs in the Universe, or something like that. I’ve read your blog now and then, and will read it more often now.

    I’m hesitant in saying this, because I don’t want you taking it other than the spirit it’s meant. I’m making a judgment call, but we are probably very different people, and our reading tastes are probably very different. But I like what you have to say about the writing process. More important, I like the way you say whatever you have to say. You’re plain and direct, and your info is always sound. At least what I’ve read. For all I know, I might have missed theunsound info. Just kidding.

    From the comments to some of your posts, I think most of your followers just don’t get it when you tell them that, more than any other thing, writing requires determination and hard work. But you have to keep on telling them about that reality. The ones who want to write will eventually get it; the others will find something else they feel good about doing.

    Actually, being a fiction writer is a lot like being a recovering low-bottom alcoholic/addict: If it were easy everybody would be doing it. You have to want it (being a writer or living sober) and you have to work for it one day at a time.

    I’m feeling both eager and apprehensive about starting my blog. Once I get it up and running I’m going to take one of the old manuscripts I have in my office closet and start revising it. And if I ever feel like giving up, I’ll read your blog.

    Keep up the good work.


    aka Drunkespeare

  51. I agree with what Katie Marchetti wrote below. I think I tried a couple of times in college to write drunk, but was just way too tired. I think while the specifics of this cute little quote are off base, the truth in them is real.

    It’s a difference between “writing brain” and “editing brain,” the part of you that lets go of inhibitions and just lets a creative act be exactly that versus that other part, the critical part that, if it had its way, wouldn’t let you finish an entire sentence for a full day, the part evoked in the Oscar Wilde quote spouted just as often as one in debate: I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.

    Yes addiction is a problem as is the glamorization of substance abuse perpetuated by artists who are more myth than men (Or women, I’m looking at you, Dorothy Parker). But he did say, “Edit sober,” not “Edit hungover,” or “Edit less drunk,” or “Edit with a slight buzz.”

    “Kill your darlings” is also dubiously attributed to either William Blake or William Faulkner, and probably a couple of other people, but really we’re not going to argue against writers really being into murdering loved ones, even if another big literary William (Burroughs) did in fact kill his wife.

    Jeff I really appreciate your point of view on this and I think you make really good points, specifically by stressing the writer’s craft and a wariness of romanticizing substance abuse, but this is not a quote to be taken at such face value, even if it is misattributed.

    Below is the suspected original quote:
    “Sometimes I write drunk and revise sober, and sometimes I write sober and revise drunk. But you have to have both elements in creation — the Apollonian and the Dionysian, or spontaneity and restraint, emotion and discipline.”

  52. I believe since he wrote more fiction than non, he spoke more as a fiction writer. I’ve always believed he didn’t mean drunk as in inebriated from alcohol, but rather a more vague reference or euphemism for writing fiction uninhibited from editing, thinking, caring, pausing. Many fiction writers have found success by turning off their internal editors and outside distractions and getting into the zone to just WRITE “without thinking” — and then edit and polish later.

  53. Jeff, this is some of the best writing advice I’ve read in a while!! I have several friends who to adhere to the “write drunk, edit sober” style of writing, and it makes me sad to see them wasting their potential as excellent writers by being so lazy. Thank you for the reminder to keep pressing into doing the hard work as a writer!

  54. why do so many quotes get misattributed to Hemingway? The bit about “write drunk, edit sober” actually came from Peter De Vries who was a satirist with a totally different style from Hemingway’s. De Vries wrote:

    “Sometimes I write drunk and revise sober, and sometimes I write sober and revise drunk. But you have to have both elements in creation — the Apollonian and the Dionysian, or spontaneity and restraint, emotion and discipline.”

    De Vries is not telling people to “write drunk.” He’s just saying he sometimes does. But his greater point is about that necessary yin and yang. Balancing order and chaos.

    I personally avoid writing “drunk” but one or two drinks gets me relaxed and open. It’s certainly better than coffee which turns me into an automaton and strangles free thought. But artists have played with mind-bending substances since the dawn of art; I hardly think a sound byte from Mariel Hemingway should change that.

  55. I say write whenever the hell you want–whether inebriated or straight. The important thing is not what your mind-set is when you write; the important thing is that you write. Then, revise, revise, revise. Just make sure you’re sober during your final revision.

  56. Thanks for bringing up the problem with glorifying addiction and propagating of the myth of creativity, Jeff. Neither is of benefit to the aspiring writer and could, possibly, be fatal to a potential addict. Perhaps someone once thought that “Write drunk, edit sober” was a descriptive, artsy way of encouraging writers to create without inhibition, but to follow up with a solid critique, rewriting, editing and further critique of their manuscript.

    “Write drunk, edit sober” is certainly more concise albeit inaccurate.

  57. I love to write technical stuff, but I’ve never found it in me to write creatively. I think too much. Alcohol helps. The metaphors just flow. The mechanics are bad, so I reread when I wake up.

    I used to think it was something of a joke until I actually tried it.

  58. Although I agree with it being bad advice, I once drank cherry brandy for 2 months straight and wrote until the ink turned into blood and then spilled onto paper. I probably should go back and edit that novel once and for all..sober.

  59. I don’t think this quote “treats art as merely whimsical, not serious” at all. The opposite in fact. The point about it is the best writing requires the discipline of editing. I think it’s taking things too literally to say the quote glamorises addiction. For me, the quote means write with abandon and then go back and edit. In other words, put aside all those self-limiting criticisms while you’re getting your thoughts down on paper. Then go back and review yourself – brutally, if need be.

  60. I agree with your points on not glorifying addiction and on not trying to find an “easy road” to writing. All too often it seems that people wish to fetishize writers and writing. All I need is to drink bourbon, have a desk near a window, and wear a roll-necked cardigan and I’m set!
    But actually, I have always taken this quote to mean that we should write with abandon and edit (or rewrite) with our brains.

  61. I can certainly respect people who reject this advice. At the same time, it’s also the only way I’ve been able to write mediocre things at all lately, let alone without wanting to burn my projects because I hate every little aspect about something people won’t read or like.

    Writing drunk lets me get more words down on a paper than it ever has before. Do I keep everything? No, of course I don’t. The drafts need a TON of work. But the strategy has worked for me.

    I am past the point about caring about quality. I just want to be able to WRITE again like I used to when I was younger. WDES has at least allowed me to do that.

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  63. I think nothing can bring inspiration into your work like just starting writing, even though your brain tries to defend you from something slightly uncomfortable and urge you to procrastinate, don’t listen to it 🙂 after 5 minutes of work that feeling will go away and instead you’ll become more and more focused on what you’re doing and that will bring you far

  64. Taken metaphorically, it’s great advice. Write without inhibition, letting your mind flow with the reckless abandon that most people reserve for drunken antics. Go back later with a clear mind, and edit away what doesn’t work.

    1. Kuribo, thank you for pointing this out. The writer of this blog completely missed the point of the saying — regardless of who first coined it.

  65. Totally agree. I’m not creative when I drink. Seriously, if I think I have to write that night, I couldn’t even have one beer. Also, the addiction side of it sucks. I remember one of my psychology heroes saying that 1) addiction doesn’t necessarily lead to creativity and 2) would you rather be creative or be alive (and ofc alive IS creative, so).

  66. This quote does not glorify addiction; it doesn’t validate the use of mind-altering chemicals to tap into creativity. It simply means that once in a while, it’s ok to have a few glasses of wine and drop your inhibitions. The next day, you’ll have to edit the maudlin, self-serving, weepy bullshit that comes from it, but it just may reveal something, or unleash something that’s been (pardon me) bottled up. I’ve seen first-hand what addiction does to people and their families. It’s not fun. This isn’t about that.

  67. Jeff Goins needs to get drunk once in a while. Or at least laid. Having said that the technical part of writing is hard work is an understatement. Writing well is the hardest work one can ever do. But, using “whatever” to get one rolling will be key. For some it might be booze; for others it might be cigarettes; for others it might be religion; still others it is exercise or music. But, whatever you need to light your light your candle, you will use to get the work done. Just ask

    1. What’s the point of the question? He doesn’t contradict anything Hemingway actually said or did, just some popular apocryphal stories about Hemingway.

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  69. I think the writer missed the point… It didn’t actually mean to get wasted and then write unless if that’s what someone wants to do. Just write without worrying about right or wrong like people who dance without worrying if they have the moves, and when you are sober you edit, edit, edit. Take what you want and throw the rest away. Nothing to do with addiction.

  70. I’m sorry but the writer of this article is a complete moron. I don’t care who said the original quote, but it has absolutely NOTHING to do with addiction. You don’t need to be an addict to fucking have a drink every now and then. And some people only need 2-3 drinks to have a good buzz, which if you’ve never been drunk, obviously like the original author of this article, can open up inhibitions which you, normally sober, may not have pursued. Which is the entire meaning behind this quote. Have one or 3 drinks before you write, it may open up ideas you may not have normally thought about. Then in the morning check for grammar errors and the like. Writers, DO NOT write every single fucking day of their lives. Most writers can write 25% of their next big hit book in one night. And guess what, they don’t release a new book every week! It takes 2-3 months, because they are busy enjoying their success and writing 1-2 nights a week, which they might enjoy a cocktail or 2 during those writing sessions. Also, they have a TEAM of editors who proofread everything before publishing anything anyway, which also slows down the overall process. So even if they don’t edit in the morning, all mistakes will be caught in the editing before publication process which takes time! So the author of this article is clearly not educated enough to be writing about the subject. It doesnt matter if Hemingway followed this practice or not, or if he was the original person who made this quote. The Quote itself has premise and stands true, and is not necessarily a bad thing or refers to addiction. So the original author can stop writing since he doesnt clearly do research before posting.

    1. I also know not many people other then maybe the original author may see this post, but yeah dude do your research. 😀 And also, to the original author, I am not dismissing you as an author or writer overall, I would gladly buy and read your four best selling books if you let me know what they are. But I just think you might have missed the point on this quote in particular.

  71. No, Hemingway did not say this, as most people are lead to believe. The only point in this “blog” that is even factual or correct.

    It is also a quote not meant to be taken literally. The actual quote is by the writer Peter De Vries from his book ‘Reuben, Reuben’ that is a humorist look at 1950s Americana.

    De Vries’ quote from ‘Reuben, Reuben’ is:

    “Sometimes I write drunk and revise sober, and sometimes I write sober and revise drunk. But you have to have both elements in creation — the Apollonian and the Dionysian, or spontaneity and restraint, emotion and discipline.”

    A purely philosophical quote from a humorist’s point of view.

    As for the rest of the above blog, the blogger, clearly, has not had a look at, nor studied in entirety, the lives of some of history’s greatest writers who were mad crazy drunks and substance abusers. Oh, I don’t know? Let’s throw some names out there, shall we? Charles Bukowski, Hunter S. Thompson, William S. Burroughs..

    It is nothing more than a pretentious opinion piece, ill researched.

  72. This article is ridiculous, there is nothing literal about the quote. You write without stopping; you let the words flow from your mind. Then you edit it as much as you can–after all, editing takes more time than writing. If you’re a writer, it shouldn’t be a problem understanding the meaning of this without trouble. This quote has absolutely nothing to do with addiction at all.

  73. Perhaps gionswriter.com could use a few less pop-ups. Seriously.
    Also, “It glorifies addiction” is a bit far. Writing drunk, editing sober is a metaphor.
    The hallmark of inebriation is inhibition. Simply put, write without restriction, then edit, sober like a judge.

  74. I think the quote is more reflective of a truth I have heard from people in a lot of creative fields (so not plumbers, typically) – that you need to get past self-criticism and inhibitions in order to get to the good stuff. Some artists do use drugs or alcohol to do that, but I have known enough addicts to suspect that typically only works for so long, and isn’t as effective long term as learning how to get into a less inhibited head space without substances. I didn’t see the quote as having to be taken literally.

    None of that is saying that creating art, be it a book or a painting, isn’t work, or isn’t a craft. It is, and it involves a lot of practice and effort. But that work might require different skills than those needed by the average plumber, or surgeon, or accountant. You seem to think the quote is describing writing as whimsical, but the thing is, editing is a huge part of being a writer too.

    (Now I’m getting stuck on the plumber, surgeon and accountant examples I used, because I suspect all of those jobs require creativity when you come across an unusual problem that needs solving. I know very little about all three subjects, but just based on the rat’s nest of pipes I’ve seen in some old apartments, I’m guessing any plumber trying to fix or update anything there would need a ton of creativity. I used those examples because I assume day-to-day tasks in those fields involve less creativity, and are instead more about discipline, and attention to detail, and following careful steps. But I could be completely off.)

  75. I like to consider myself an intelligent person. After reading this article and the rather harsh comments I am a bit shocked and we’ll aware that I am barely scraping smart.
    First, I always believed that Hemingway​ said or wrote both this quote and drunk. But, hey I’m still coping with Pluto losing its “Planet” badge, so I’ve got issues. And although I feel some of the opinions were a tad harsh (come on “fuckweed”?) I learned more from those comments all together.

    But, without a doubt, I agree that this quote romanticises addiction/alcoholism. I have used it to make sense of my drunk ass not making any sense for the scribbling and yada yada yada I wrote then read and then threw away the next day. Instead of editing a masterpiece, I nursed a hangover and prayed I didn’t read it out loud to anyone.

    I wish I was a brilliant, psychoctic, self destructive creative genius. Instead I am a psychoctic, self destructive gullible and weak mess.

    Some of us believe what we read and some of the things we read can be triggers or excuses to finish off the bottle(s)of wine. I believe he has a valid point.

  76. I think that it doesn`t matter whether Hemingway drank alcohol or not. What`s really important is that his works, his heritage for next generation is huge and unspeakable. Hemingway is my favorite author and being a thesis writer , I always like to wrote about his life and brilliant works.

  77. I have read this quote quite a few times and it had been attributed to Hemingway, but I don’t think this quote is about the actual act of getting drunk and writing… I think, and it’s the only idea I got from it, what this means is to let go while writing in the first place, not to worry about grammar and such and even if it appears bad, just get the story down… but, be focused while editing… this is the most important quote of my life because it helped… my first drafts are shabby, but complete stories… Now I can focus on making them better via editing

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