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What Does Write Drunk, Edit Sober Really Mean?

And No, I Don't Think it's Literal

By Amethyst ChampagnePublished 2 years ago 3 min read
What Does Write Drunk, Edit Sober Really Mean?
Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

'Write drunk, edit sober.'

It's one of Ernest Hemmingway's most famous sayings. This is one quote that many writers have seen at least once. And from what I've seen, its meaning is debated now and again.

A while back, I read a piece on Vocal about how you should not write drunk. It was a quality story, so I'm not trying to say they are wrong. And I do agree you shouldn't go near your journal or computer when you're intoxicated with alcohol.

But I think this person was taking Hemmingway's quote too literally. And since you don't know me outside of the stories I write on this platform, I tend to take things literally, so that's saying something.

I have been writing for over five years now, so I've had the time to play with writing techniques and read advice on how to write.

One of the most common things I see is that you shouldn't think about how your writing could be better as you're doing it. And unless it's a significant technical error that will distract me from my flow or if I have an idea I want to add before I forget it, I think it's true.

And I think that was the intent behind the first part of Hemmingway's quote. Just write down your ideas and worry about refining them after you've finished.

As for the second part of the quote, I think it means edit when you have a clear mind and are able to more objectively what does and doesn't work for your story.

So take a break from your story when you finish. I would recommend at least a couple of weeks. This will allow you time to have fresh eyes when you return.

And do activities to help clean your mind. Hang out with friends, go in nature, work out, watch a movie or two, indulge in self-care. You can even write another story if you wish.

Then, you can come back and start to edit the hell out of your writing.

Even before I started my editing career, I enjoyed scanning my stories, seeing what did and didn't work, then tweaking it. Many writers dread it, and I can't relate to them.

And while I hope you wouldn't edit your work when you weren't sober, I don't think it's that literal.

I think what he meant was that you need to have a clear mind and unbiased opinion about the errors your story will have. And I can't help but agree with him there.

I know we all want to believe our work is the best thing since sliced bread, but nothing's perfect, especially the first round of it.

You may be able to see those issues on your own, but having someone else read your draft can be helpful in editing and revising. They can be a friend, family member, or even a beta reader if you are inclined to hire someone.

But if you decide to share your draft, be prepared for critiques about your story. No, it never feels good to be criticized about anything. It can feel like a punch in the gut. But they can help you grow and become better at your craft.

Just make sure the criticisms aren't meant to be mean or discouraging. You don't need a troll or bully tearing you down before you've even published.

Then go sit down and make those suggested changes and see how they work. You might end up using your first version, or you might keep the changes.

And if that isn't enough to make your story work, rewrite the whole thing. Yes, a daunting task, I feel you. I've done it with several novel-length stories.

But second drafts often are better than first drafts. You have a clearer idea and direction for your story. And it's actually easier to do rewrites than trying to edit and revise a draft in a coherent fashion.

Also, you can save ideas from your first draft that you like but can't fit into your current WIP (work in progress) and recycle them into another story later on.

Some people use journals or Word documents solely for storing ideas. I use Samsung notes on my phone since I have better access, and I know I won't forget anything.

So, that's my take on the quote 'write drunk, edit sober.' I hope this post has been helpful for you. Now go on and write!

Thank you for the read! Likes, tips, and subscriptions are always loved. :)

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About the Creator

Amethyst Champagne

I create fiction, short stories, poetry, and more!

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    Amethyst ChampagneWritten by Amethyst Champagne

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