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What People Misunderstand About “Write Drunk, Edit Sober”

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One of the most important lessons I try to impart to those whose writing I coach is that “State” can be achieved in any number of ways—and how to take advantage of it when it hits.

As aphorisms go, “Write drunk, edit sober,” (erroneously attributed to Hemingway) is one of the most popular, but probably also one of the most misunderstood.

It’s not just that writers like to drink, it’s that being a little drunk allows you to get out of your own way and more easily access what I call your “Wellspring.”

The Wellspring is the true source of your creative genius.

It’s the place of deepest knowledge and most sincere expression of the artistic self; it’s also an area of extreme vulnerability.

So we protect it. We cover it with logic and reason, shroud it in ego, obscure it with the mundanity of every day life.

The best of your art flows from that source. Tapping into it is the key. Being drunk makes that easier.

But you can be “drunk” in a lot of different ways. Drunk on booze, sure.

But you can be drunk on anger.

Drunk on joy, or pain, or lust.

And, obviously, drunk in love.

It’s all a way of getting into State to more easily tap into your Wellspring, and letting the magic flow through you.

Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” That’s State. That’s the Wellspring.

As for editing sober, to paraphrase de Montaigne, the Wellspring is the source of both genius and madness. Too much of anything can ruin the best work, and anything you create in a state of drunkenness is bound to be seasoned with a dash of crazy.

Always edit sober.

Let cooler heads prevail. Time gives you the perspective and objectivity to discern the essential and cut the excess, the noise. Remove an honesty or two. What remains is everything.

Or just disregard all of this, get wasted, and just post to the internet. Both work.

About the Author

John Romaniello is a level 70 orc wizard who spends his days lifting heavy shit and his nights fighting crime. When not doing that, he serves as the Chief Bro King of the Roman Empire and Executive Editor here on RFS. You can read his articles here, and rants on Facebook.