• Drinking While Writing

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 38 comments

    Discussion questions: What’s your take on “Write drunk, edit sober”? Do you drink or use drugs while writing? If so, how does it influence your work, your process, or your approach? If you don’t, why don’t you? If you used to drink while writing, why did you stop? Let us know in the comments. Use a fake name if you’d prefer.


    This week I was reminded of one of the many famous quotes mistakenly attributed to Hemingway: “Write drunk, edit sober.”

    I used to write drunk. (And rarely edit at all, sober or not.) I don’t anymore, except on rare occasions, but I know plenty of authors who drink (or smoke pot), some of them profusely, while writing.

    My take on drinking while writing is the same as my take on anything else related to the writing process: Hey, whatever works.

    For the record, there’s no… um, record… of Hemingway ever saying “Write drunk, edit sober.”

    There is a record of a fictional character, based on Dylan Thomas, saying, “Sometimes I write drunk and revise sober, and sometimes I write sober and revise drunk.” That’s from the 1964 novel Reuben, Reuben by a writer named Peter De Vries.

    It’s not surprising that a version of this line would be attributed to Hemingway, a world-renowned drinker. But Hemingway is also on record as saying he never drank while he wrote.

    Faulkner is another story. “The tools I need for my trade,” he said in a Paris Review interview, “are paper, tobacco, food, and a little whiskey.” He believed he could write as well drunk as he could sober.

    Hemingway disagreed: “I can tell right in the middle of a page when he’s had his first one.” And Cheever (though I can’t find an original source) is believed to have said that one can smell the bourbon in some of Faulkner’s worst work.

    I’ve written while drunk or high plenty. Mostly in my mid-twenties, when I had notions about being better able to access my creativity and inspiration while under the influence.

    It’s an appealing idea. Many of us, when we drink, are (for better or worse) able to cast off, or at least lessen/lower, our inhibitions. And so the theory is, if we write while drinking or on drugs nothing will hold us back. We’ll produce our purest, most truthful writing.

    I don’t (think I) agree with that anymore, at least not for myself. But neither do I begrudge anyone who believes in it for their own work/process.

    I often enjoy being alone in a quiet bar, just me and a beer and a book. Sometimes I’ll even read my own drafty work at a bar, taking notes in the margins. I rarely drink while writing anymore, but occasionally I’ll brainstorm ideas for my novel, tinker with my outline, or even goof around with character sketches over a beer at a bar.

    How about you? What’s your take on “Write drunk, edit sober”? Do you drink or use drugs while writing? If so, how does it influence your work, your process, or your approach? Can you tell any difference between your sober work and the work you produce while drinking? Let us know in the comments. And feel free to use a fake name, if you’d prefer.


    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is fiction editor at the Texas Observer and co-host of the Yak Babies podcast, and has written about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2019 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coachingprivate instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”

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    Catherine Margolin

    I’m just starting out my career (or possibly my so-called career) in the world of fiction writing. I like to call mine dramatized fiction, I.e. based on historical legend. Thus I can’t claim expertise here. However I made a living as a technical writer for 20 years until the internet bubble collapsed and I had to change careers into mortgage. Although the income in mortgage has been much higher I still miss tech writing tremendously and it’s been almost 20 years. That all said, I am a big believer in doing whatever works to get the creative juices flowing too.… Read more »

    Barbara Mealer

    I would occasionally have a glass of wine while I wrote, only the wine ended up sitting there, not drunk as I typed away, to much into what I was doing to drink it. When I’m writing I have to stop and remember to drink water/coffee/tea or whatever I have beside me. As to writing drunk, not me. I like to know what I’m doing and have this thing about not getting drunk. I want to know if I had fun and what type of fun I had. (Personal philosophy developed a long, long time ago) I’ve never used drugs… Read more »

    Barbara Mealer

    I am a fugue writer in a way. When I get into the scene, I forget what is going on around me and I become that character. Food, water and physical needs are forgotten until they become overwhelming needs. What I do now is to set an alarm where I have to take a break every hour. That way I get up and walk around and regenerate. That is how I’ve written as high as 10K words in a day. And yes, you got it with the staying sober while creating. Become your character. Let them tell you what they… Read more »

    Barbara Mealer

    in 5k words per min. he recommends 5 min. I can’t do that since I need to get a scene completed before stopping. I set the alarm for 60 min, but will stop if I need to do so earlier and just reset it. But I keep to no more than an hour of solid work. Any longer time period, you start slowing down and are tired even if you don’t realize it. The potty break, a glass of water or soda and moving around will put you back into being productive without getting too far out of the zone.… Read more »

    Joe Giordano

    I drink coffee while I write. If I’m in the writing zone, it gets cold – a good thing. I’m a morning rather than an evening writer, so no alcohol. If I were to drink, my rough drafts would become unsteady on their feet. By the way, my publisher is running a pre-publication promotion with my third novel, Drone Strike, of $0.99 for the eBook on Amazon. Years ago Abbie Hoffman wrote “Steal this Book.” $0.99 is pretty close. Thanks for your support. Joe.

    david lemke

    I checked out your website. Nice. I have two books on Kindle with a third coming out shortly. I think I read Abbie’s book.
    I agree; coffee is the fuel of choice.

    Joe Giordano

    Thanks for your interest and support. Joe.

    david lemke

    Four snore and seven beers ago, our four-flushers… I’ve never written drunk. I’ve probably tried to write stoned back in the ’70s. There are times when I’m having a glass of wine and I end up in front of a keyboard, but usually writing does not get done. There are other time when I do get myself motivated and words appear. There are very rare times when I’ll sit down with a short glass of single malt, and words will happen. I’m so bad at editing that any sort of inebriation would be detrimental. Any distractions can shut me down;… Read more »

    david lemke

    Here are five that I use but there are many that you can chose from. Find what works for you.


    Study Music – SUPER Memory & Concentration █ Alpha BiNaural Beat – Focus Music

    ➤ All 9 Solfeggio Frequencies | Full Album With Yoga Music | Zen Music

    Focus & Creativity – Creative Thinking, Visualisation & Problem Solving – Binaural Beats & Iso Tones

    Increase Concentration With Study Focus Pulsating Synth (Isochronic Tones)

    Elissa Malcohn

    Alcohol, no. Coffee, yes.
    The “drug” that loosens my inhibitions for writing is music.

    Elissa Malcohn

    Both. Starting from when I was a kid, music fueled the visions that became stories. First I watched the movies inside my head and scribbled notes. Then I used the same music to write the draft. Headphones were a must, because I’d often play the same piece on auto-repeat for days. (I named one story “Another Place” (Amazing, May 1988) after the single by the jazz group Hiroshima, because that piece fueled the story and the title fit so well. It didn’t matter that the music was Japanese and the story was set in Ecuador.) Individual songs could fuel particular… Read more »

    Julie Farin

    Read Pete Hamill’s “A Drinking Life.”
    He says one of the main reasons he quit drinking was because it was affecting his memory. As a writer, that’s your most precious asset, he says. I agree with him.

    Sarah Lake

    Sometimes I drink before I write. I have a lot of anxiety surrounding writing, and if I can settle my nerves a little before I put my butt in the chair, it helps. Like what you said about inhibitions. I don’t do it to excess, but I’m sure it affects what comes out, at least to some degree. Still, it’s better than not writing at all, which is what will sometimes happen if I don’t have a drink.

    Sarah Lake

    You know, other times I won’t even be thinking about writing, but then I’ll have a drink and suddenly I want to write. So it can help me in that way, too. But once I start writing, it’s coffee or water or nothing.


    There’s a certain romance around alcohol and the writer, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I will not be at my best if I am writing and drinking at the same time. I get fresh ideas when I am moving to music. Writing long enough to be “in the zone” also produces a higher quality of work.


    In today’s terms, that is not an attractive description of a writer! But Hemingway does have amazing short stories and descriptive passages and I respect him for that.


    Despite all the machismo stuff, he was probably very disciplined when it came to his writing.

    Jerry Schwartz

    Nope. Strictly water, tea, or sometimes flavored seltzer. However, I often think about my writing when I’m not doing it; more correctly, I compose in my head. That includes when I’m at the casino. I was usually drunk as a skunk, but I either made lucid notes or just plain remembered what I’d come up with. But nothing goes on “paper.” When I’m home, my drinking is typically an after dinner relaxation thing. Unfortunately, I’ve been diagnosed with non-alcoholic liver disease. (Yes, you can damage your liver in other ways, although the end result is the same.) My prescribed diet… Read more »

    Jerry Schwartz

    I never know when a thought will occur to me. It could be as small as a phrase or word, or an entire scene or plotline. I have a note-taking app on my phone, so I can easily jot something down. Since everything in the note program replicates to my computer and vvs., I can refer to my notes any time and any place. I haven’t had my one drink yet. I’ll be going out with friends in NYC next weekend, so I’ll probably have a glass of wine then. So much for my collection of fine whiskeys. I’m thinking… Read more »


    When I bowled on 1$ beer night I thought I was a great bowler. My score proved I was not. But I was an inspired bowler. Same for writing. I may drink and express and, later, find some artistic insight. But anyone who reads my work, will be better served after it has been filtered through some sober editing. That may be, the key to good writing.


    Most of the time, yes, though I refine with the sober mind. Still, I try not to lose the uninhibited inspiration.

    Larry Sells

    When I was younger I drank beer or a a screwdriver while I drank. As I got older and wiser, I drank less. I’m eight years sober, and never felt better. Now when I write it with a cup filled with coffee and cream or a quart of chocolate milk.


    Sounds like you are wiser, Larry. A good writing session is the better high.


    this article jumped off the page at me
    printing it out now to read later tonight
    when i wrote (1 book), this is exactly what i did– wrote sipping a bottle of red wine, edited with a ton of coffee
    may need to do so again

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