Write Drunk, Edit Sober


Hemingway carousing at a bar in Cuba
 Hemingway carousing at a bar in Cuba

Questionable Advice

Recently, I came across this beautiful little piece of writer’s advice on the web. The short catchy phrase is attributed to the legendary, Ernest Hemingway and goes like this: “Write Drunk, Edit Sober“.  I have found this  slogan, mentioned in writing blogs, printed on T-shirts and incorporated into decorative posters. If taken at face value……maybe this is not the best piece of advice one can receive…..but when interpreted to imply that creative writing requires an altered reality from everyday experience…..then maybe there is some truth to the four words.

I pair airplane crashes  1954, Ernest Hemingway and his wife, Mary Welsh , were involved in Africa
I pair airplane crashes 1954, Ernest Hemingway and his wife, Mary Welsh , were involved in Africa

Hemingway and the Bottle

In January 1954, Hemingway and his wife were involved in two seperate small plane crashes, while elephant hunting in Uganda. According to a NY Times report, Hemingway walked out of the jungle with his arm in a bandage, yet he was still able to carry a bunch of bananas and a bottle of gin. Throughout much of his life, Hemingway has been associated with alcohol, taverns, high adventure and having a good time, but even if Ernest did have a drinking problem, it did not prevent him from winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954.

Hemingway was often photographed with a bottle in hand, a situation, which often lead to many misconceptions about the author’s drinking habits.

Bars Associated With Ernest Hemingway

Though Hemingway traveled the world his favorite watering spots seem to have been Havana, Key West, Madrid and Paris. In Havana, La Floridita and La Bodeguita del Medio got the Lion’s share of his attention, while in Key West, there are two drinking establishments that claim home to both Mr. Hemingway and the Sloppy Joe sandwich. They are Captain Tony’s Saloon and Sloppy Joe’s Bar. Maybe the best way to resolve this dilemma is visit both, but I do suspect the Sloppy Joe may have originated in Havanna, Cuba and not the Conch Republic.

In Paris, Hemingway’s favorite bars included Harry’s New York Bar, the Dingo Bar, the Ritz Hotel on rue Cambon and the La Closerie de Lilas among many others. And then there is Madrid, a bustling city that Hemingway visited off and on for 40 years. In this Spanish capitol, places with names like Museo Chicote, La Venencia and the (Westin) Palace Hotel got most of Ernest’s patronage.

Drinking and Writing

Although Hemingway did sometimes write while sitting alone in a bar with a drink in hand, the author claims to have never written when inebriated. Instead, Hemingway enjoyed working in the morning before the heat of the day set in.

Origin of Write Drunk, Edit Sober

These four terse words have never been connected with Hemingway. Instead, they are most often traced to the writer, Peter deVries. In his 1964 novel, Reuben, Reuben, the main character, whom is loosely based on Dylan Thomas, 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, restraint, emotion and discipline.”

So there you go with the real nuts and bolts of writing drunk. But next time you see this text in print, maybe you should check out Hunter Thompson to see if he was sober, when he finally sat himself down in front of his typewriter and started pecking. My hunch is that his mind may have in a relatively subdued mood.


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