Write drunk. Edit Sober.

Feb 21, 2024 | Better Writing

“Write drunk. Edit sober.”

Whether Ernest Hemingway ever said those words or not, there’s wisdom in that quote. It just doesn’t have anything to do with pharmacology.

Try this on for size. Write passionately. Edit dispassionately.

Write passionately

Your best writing will be the writing that moves both you and the reader. It will be writing with passion, flow, and energy. Here’s how to make that more likely.

Capture passion on the fly. When an idea, a situation, or a phrase inspires you, capture it. Write it down. Record it. Don’t let it get away. Put it in your journal or a swipe file.

You’re more likely to write passionately if you can start right in writing at the beginning of a writing session. To do that, you must know what you will say in advance. Once you start writing, ideas, inspiration, and passion will come.

Keep the good flow going. When you hit a spot where you need a specific word or a fact, put the initials TK in your manuscript and keep going. When you’re done writing, go back and search for TK. Fill in the tidbit you need.

Pay attention to your body. Personally, I do my best writing standing up. I have more positive energy and can move around, which helps keep that energy going.

Edit dispassionately

All great writing is rewriting. When you edit your work, uncouple yourself from the passion.

You must be willing to take some of your finest ideas and change or eliminate them. Remember that powerful bit of writing advice to “kill your babies.”

What about Hemingway? In 1958, he was interviewed by the Paris Review. He said he had rewritten the conclusion to A Farewell to Arms “39 times.”  It’s probably 47 times. His grandson, Sean Hemingway, came up with that number when he edited the Hemingway Library Edition of A Farewell to Arms. That edition includes the author’s 1948 introduction, early drafts, and all the alternative endings.

So, eschew that alcohol when you write, but write passionately. Then, edit dispassionately.