Write Drunk, Edit Sober. Good advice if not taken literally.

Dennis asked me if I wanted some tequila. We were joking around and he mentioned writing a blog post about “Writing like Hemingway.”

I said no, but umm, well here I am writing about the aftermath.

write

“Write Drunk, Edit Sober” is a quote that is generally attributed to Hemingway, but there is actually no credible source that he actually said it. However even Hemingway can’t remember everything he actually wrote and said.  In the Paris Review The Art of Fiction No. 21 conducted by George Plimpton

Plimpton: You once wrote in the Transatlantic Review that the only reason for writing journalism was to be well paid. You said: “And when you destroy the valuable things you have by writing about them, you want to get big money for it.” Do you think of writing as a type of self-destruction?

HEMINGWAY: I do not remember ever writing that. But it sounds silly and violent enough for me to have said it to avoid having to bite on the nail and make a sensible statement…”

So whether he said it or not, let’s breakdown “Write Drunk, Edit Sober”

hemingwayEarnest Hemingway was a notorious drinker. A quick search on the internet will show hundreds of photos with him with a drink in his hand. He also was a womanizer, it’s possible that he hit his wives.  In fact, some would say his over the top lifestyle is practically a parody of what it is to be a sporting man’s man author.  I am not defending any bit of his lifestyle. This is post is simply about writing while drunk.

While certainly, Hemingway was a hard drinker, there is evidence to suggest that most of the time while he was writing he was sober.

In the same interview with Plimpton, Hemingway said “When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that. When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.”

So in my opinion, it doesn’t really sound like he is drinking when he is actually writing. It sounds like he is drinking when he is NOT writing. He’s getting through the rest of the day. Here is another of Hemingway’s stories about writing and drinking:

Hemingway: “The stories you mention I wrote in one day in Madrid on May 16 when it snowed out the San Isidro bullfights. First I wrote “The Killers,” which I’d tried to write before and failed. Then after lunch I got in bed to keep warm and wrote “Today Is Friday.” I had so much juice I thought maybe I was going crazy and I had about six other stories to write. So I got dressed and walked to Fornos, the old bullfighters’ café, and drank coffee and then came back and wrote “Ten Indians.” This made me very sad and I drank some brandy and went to sleep. I’d forgotten to eat and one of the waiters brought me up some bacalao and a small steak and fried potatoes and a bottle of Valdepeñas.

The woman who ran the pension was always worried that I did not eat enough and she had sent the waiter. I remember sitting up in bed and eating, and drinking the Valdepeñas. The waiter said he would bring up another bottle. He said the Señora wanted to know if I was going to write all night. I said no, I thought I would lay off for a while. Why don’t you try to write just one more, the waiter asked. I’m only supposed to write one, I said. Nonsense, he said. You could write six. I’ll try tomorrow, I said. Try it tonight, he said. What do you think the old woman sent the food up for?

I’m tired, I told him. Nonsense, he said (the word was not nonsense). You tired after three miserable little stories. Translate me one.

Leave me alone, I said. How am I going to write it if you don’t leave me alone? So I sat up in bed and drank the Valdepeñas and thought what a hell of a writer I was if the first story was as good as I’d hoped.”

Notice here too, he is not saying he is writing and drinking. He drank brandy and went to sleep. Later he is drinking and thinking.

Now this is what really happens if I am drinking. Before people get the wrong idea (And for my mom since she is likely going to read this) I am going to explain something. I sip my shots, not toss them back. Normally when I drink, I enjoy mixed drinks better than straight shots. I am only a social drinker.

Cut up some limes, break open the salt and Dennis pours us a shot.

1st shot: I feel fuzzy though Dennis doesn’t believe I feel fuzzy a little warm–but then the guy has a hundred pounds on me. We begin watch the goofy movie Eurotrip, 2004 . Our neighbors comes over.

2nd shot. I feel a little unsteady on my feet. Dennis tells me to touch my nose with my eyes closed which I can do, HOWEVER I have to THINK to make brownies, but I know my neighbor doesn’t like walnuts, so I ask everyone how they feel about pecans. Then I made said brownies with pecans.  They turned out fine, because I was THINKING really hard about a recipe I have memorized.

At this point I feel I have been up for nine days. My eyelids are getting heavy, but I set the timer. Now the brownie timer is the shot timer. So now we had over a 1/2 hour between the second and third shot.

Third shot and brownies!

Our neighbor and Dennis talk about this new food called a cronut. My neighbor and I tried to figure out how to deconstruct a cronut so we could make them someday. They are in new York and though they will no doubt move across the country, we thought about what it might be like.

Dennis is wondering why we get fixated on thing, until our neighbor called it “hacking the cronut.”

Everyone starts talking about dinner. Honestly I’m too sleepy to sit through a meal. They call up to get a cab, then go get Mexican Food. I stay home. I didn’t mean to fall asleep, I meant to see what happened if I tried to write. Then Dennis is calling me, telling me he is coming home. He brought me Carne Asada Tacos. I eat.

Now that I am awake again, the depressive effects of alcohol means I cannot feel my heart. Or my brain. Or where ever the stories and the characters and their voices come from. I become logical and colder.  I have to try to keep myself from panicking. My synapses are firing, I know it’s there, but there is no connection. I began thinking I might never be able to create again.  I feel dead inside. I feel alone. Logically I know I have a husband who loves me–and who don’t forget–just brought me tacos as proof of his devotion and also now is being very sweet to me since he knows I don’t feel quite right.

Dennis suggests I go to bed. I take the dogs outside and come inside and try to sleep. It does not come quickly. It does come once Dennis comes to bed. He mentions some movies we might watch today. I eventually fall asleep until 6:30 when Tycho wakes me up so I will take him outside. This morning, I don’t have a headache and my heart is speaking to me again.

This is what I learned:  Drinking does not make you more imaginative or creative, it turns off the “juice.” As Hemingway called it. This is why so many artists of all types drink and do drugs. Not to be more creative, but to turn it off! 

This is why I believe “Write Drunk, Edit Sober” is not meant to be taken literally at all. It means write without inhibition. Make it fun. Make it a carnival.

If  you want to emulate about Earnest Hemingway then write with confidence. Use strong words and write as concisely as possible. Finally here is the last thing to remember about being an author, even about a great Nobel Prize winning author such as Hemingway: “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit, I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.” (Hemingway to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1934.)

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Ivan on June 26, 2014 at 11:38 am

    Just read A Moveable Feast – when Hemingway writes, he drinks so much that the average person would be totally drunk)

    Reply

  2. Wonderful blog. I love Hemingway’s writing, so thank you for sharing this little bit about his life and work.

    Reply

  3. Really good point. There’s certainly different aspects of the mind at play when writing and editing, but substance abuse isn’t a catalyst, it’s tragic

    Reply

  4. I love the title – especially the disclaimer. 🙂

    Thanks for the informative post. Among other things it taught me is to be grateful that my parents don’t speak English, so I can post anything I want… 😀

    Reply

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