This Is Why You Should Never Write Drunk
No, not even Hemingway did it.
I just hate it that creative writing — just like other forms of expression — is often misunderstood as the stuff of troubled geniuses.
You have probably come came across people who had this mindset. People who regard themselves as the crème de la crème of artistic sentimentalism, affirming that they “feel” things more profoundly than regular human beings.
Or perhaps you just think artists need to be in an altered state of mind to be productive.
Regarding this conception, plentiful of myths serve to further consolidate this mess. For example, that Ernest Miller Hemingway, one of the core authors of American Literature, wrote his works while drunk.
I mean, it is romantic, right? The tortured soul grabbing his whisky while putting his words to paper — words that the average sober human being could not possibly conceive.
And many people — freelance writers, aspiring writers, successful writers, failed writers, Twitter writers — keep telling themselves that artists need their vices to make art.
So, let me be straight about what I think about this:
This is nonsense.
The quote “write drunk, edit sober” is often misattributed to Ernest Hemingway who, as it turns out, never wrote drunk. While Hemingway was definitely a boozer, he wrote in the morning and didn’t start drinking until the afternoon. Or so I’m told.
Writing drunk may sound entertaining, but mistakes get made, tempers flare, and even a small slip up like posting a personal tweet to your company page instead of your personal page can cause a disaster.
— Henry DeVries, Forbes contributor.
Work Sober, Please
I would never have to tell a doctor the advantages of going to work sober, or to tell a startup CEO not to attend his meetings after smoking a joint.
The core message here is: take your job seriously — regardless of whether it is operating a pancreatic tumor or writing blog posts.
Alcohol might make us feel that it is easier to work and that ideas pop up more freely, but this is a misconception. Also, the plenty of its side-effects are barriers to writing. The same goes for other drugs.
And, as you might expect, I have already written things after a few drinks. Been there, done that, all right. And so I can tell you why exactly I am never doing this again.
The core message here is: you should take your job seriously — regardless of whether it is operating a pancreatic tumor or writing blog posts.
Your focus blurs
Forget binge-writing best-selling novels. In the long run, you want the consistency of someone capable of meeting their deadlines and producing content at the best of your abilities.
When you are too exhausted, or after you had a drink, the odds are that you are not so focused and concentrated as a sober, well-rested person.
So: Leave your writing for when you are well-rested, free of distractions, and sober.
You risk addiction
You risk gaining some terrible habits — if you only need a beer to finish that text, be sure that things will snowball from there.
One of the contemporary literature’s most famous stories about addiction and writing is Stephen King’s.
Yes, he had a phase in which he was so drunk he doesn’t even remember writing some of his novels.
There’s one novel, Cujo, that I barely remember writing at all. I don’t say that with pride or shame, only with a vague sense of sorrow and loss. I like that book. I wish I could remember enjoying the good parts as I put them down on the page.
– Stephen King, On Writing
But it turns out that Stephen King advocates against this mistake — against writing drunk, and against thinking that artistic expression and vices have anything intrinsically related.
As a man who spent years of his life working under the influence, he seemingly learned his lessons and tried to share the word that no, you don’t need mind-altering substances to do your work — whether you are a writer, a painter, or a snowplow driver.
“The idea that the creative endeavor and mind-altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time. … Substance abusing writers are just substance abusers — common garden variety drunks and druggies, in other words. Any claims that the drugs and alcohol are necessary to dull a finer sensibility are just the usual self-serving bullshit. I’ve heard alcoholic snowplow drivers make the same claim, that they drink to still the demons.”
― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
So: Don’t use art as an excuse for vice.
I will not even ramble about the psychological, biological, and social consequences of vices such as drinking and smoking while you are working.
If you acknowledge this is a problem you cannot overcome alone, please seek help. You can find your way out of vices through family, through friends, and through supporting groups.
As a doctor, after all, I realize the most important step toward solving a problem is identifying — or diagnosing — it.
So, believe that, just like Stephen King, your best works come out when you are at your best. Don’t give in to vices as an excuse to write, or to produce art.
Not even Hemingway did it.