Image credit: Shutterstock

‘Write Drunk, Edit Sober’: An Experience in Writing and Drinking

Image credit: Shutterstock
Image credit: Shutterstock

Whilst on summer holiday in New York, I took a walk through a sweltering Central Park. I was looking for a mobile book store, known as “The Strand”. There is a more permanent fixture of this temporary set-up in New York; just off Broadway, mostly known for being a haven for the reading purists, filled with old originals and torn up, thoroughly used hand-me-downs which have a history as colourful as the stories they contain. Little did I know this would inspire the most enjoyable social experiment since Dick and Dom played “bogies” in a public library.

Either way, I stumbled across this portable bookstore in scalding 35-degree summer heat and began to browse. I picked up a few pieces, nothing major. A collective of Dostoevsky’s short stories and Hard Candy by Vachss among others. As I went to pay, a ridiculously cheap $7, I noticed a badge selection by the cash register. Amongst them, one stood out. Totally white, but for one phrase in black bold type: Write Drunk, Edit Sober. I bought it, letting everyone around me know I was indeed a douche-y young person, who read “On the road” one time (changed my life, I swear).   I stuck it in my backpack and thought nothing of it.

Four months later

I find myself sitting at my desk, trying to think of something to write. I’ve had a few drinks by now; a delightful, albeit questionable, combination of Baileys, white wine and beer. This was ushered on by the Christmas season and its encouraging message of consequence-free drinking. Consuming varying beverages produces different forms of drunk, at least in my experience. This one was bizarrely fuzzy, yet lucid enough to inspire me into doing more than watch Netflix re-runs.

Somewhere in the fog of the 4th Baileys, I remembered that badge. As with everything I don’t understand, including assessed essays, I googled it. Apparently Write Drunk, Edit Sober is incorrectly attributed to Ernest Hemingway. I like Hemingway, and I like drinking even more, so this boded well.

That said, it’s not even his quote. Yet generations of people still liked to stick it on “vintage” products to make them seem more legitimate. I decided then and there to try and practice the rule Hemingway never actually preached. He did once say, “Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.” Perhaps I should have heeded this advice over the mis-quote, but there was only one way to find out .

Fifteen minutes later

Being drunk has its merits. Being drunk on your own is an odd experience, to say the least. There is a satisfying comfort to it; being drunk in company is infinitely more amusing. That said, it doesn’t require any prior experience or qualification which is a positive, however it also has some practical challenges. Firstly, my attention span is severely limited. I attempted to jump back into an article I was writing on something less interesting than drinking wine.

I usually listen to music while I write, just for the rhythm to accompany the writing. Being drunk, even slightly, instantly drags my attention to the music. I start listening to songs I used to enjoy back when I was 17, or 18. Although melancholic and fun, ultimately the work suffers. The writing is distinctly lacking in clarity. It reads amazingly to me, but I have to remember I am approaching the state of “drunk”. Not Rugby-player-Salvos-Wednesday-creepy drunk, but I’m what my nan might call “merry” (old person slang for “wavy”, possibly). Everything will, and does, sound great to a man with half a bottle of Baileys inside him (the contents of the bottle, not the bottle itself: I wasn’t that drunk) .

Forty-five minutes later    

Okay.

So.

I’ve decimated the first bottle of wine and half of the second. The slow onset of inebriation is enjoyable but not massively work-orientated. I usually feel quite self-critical of my writing, so it’s refreshingly cathartic to have those barriers lifted. I am not, evidently, paralytically drunk. The wine produces a smoother sensation of drunkenness which, if anything, aids writing my article.

However, I quickly become side-tracked. My attention and my writing style are significantly dictated by my music choice (music and booze are literally incredible together, as we all must surely know by now) and my general mood at the time. I stop writing articles and start writing poetry. I am essentially free styling. I make up some words and punctuation is; well, there is none. The creative stuff isn’t bad; it mostly reflects my current state of comfortable, wine-y repose. Pitbull comes on shuffle, I’m just wasted enough to not recoil in disgust, I leave it on and stop writing.

Ninety minutes later

I love Pitbull. People need to lay off that guy. Time of Our Lives is a banger.

Why did I do this again?

The next morning

Alright. So, I’m not 100% sure what I learned from the experience, but it was vaguely interesting. Writing drunk is not particularly efficient, but I had a lot more fun doing it. I nearly spilt wine on my keyboard a few times which was exciting. However, there are some genuinely useful by-products of a little alcoholism thrown into the creative process.

My poetic attempts actually feel quite insightful; the absence of heavy self-critique is refreshing, and the writing benefits. I am more honest and more adventurous with my ideas. My expressions are more natural and less rigid than the norm. My formal article has gone from unfinished to irredeemable. In terms of editing, I remove most of what I wrote in the article; I save all the poetry.

Writing drunk and editing sober is not effective if you want to get your job done. This was common knowledge to pretty much everyone beforehand so I essentially learnt nothing. If you struggle to validate your own voice in your writing, I suggest giving it a shot, just for the chance of accidentally writing a masterpiece. If all that stands between you and critical acclaim is a splash of Jäger, you’d be a fool not to chance it. It is surprisingly enjoyable to express yourself with the spongy relief of wine. Just don’t exceed one and a half bottles. Beyond this point, there is nothing but regret, headaches and Pitbull’s bald head haunting your drunken dreams. 8/10, would try again.

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Tom Killeen

Tom Killeen

Sports Editor at The Yorker. 3rd Year History Undergrad.