The Science Behind Writing Drunk and Editing Sober: Infographic

    Hemingway’s famous advice was to “write drunk, edit sober”.

    Although there is a lot of debate as to whether Hemingway actually said this, it does raise an interesting question: does alcohol help with the writing process?

    It is no secret that some of the greatest authors were heavy drinkers, including David Foster Wallace, Edgar Allan Poe, Truman Capote, and of course Ernest Hemingway.

    Hemingway enjoyed a cocktail or two so often that another writer, Philip Greene, was inspired to pen To Have and Have Another, a book about Hemingway’s drinking habits.

    The infographic below delves into the science behind “write drunk, edit sober”.

    Courtesy of: The Expert Editor
    About the author

      Mary Jaksch

      Mary Jaksch is best known for her exceptional training for writers at WritetoDone.com. Grab her latest all new course Blogwriter's Bootcamp 2.0 or a copy of her free report, How to Create an Irresistible Lead Magnet in Less Than 5 Hours. In her “spare” time, Mary’s also the brains behind AlistBlogging.net. and GoodlifeZEN.com, a Zen Master, a mother, and a 5th Degree Black Belt.

    • Joe Moore says:

      Interesting. I read somewhere years ago that 7 out of 10 American Nobel Prize Winners for Literature were alcoholics. The only ones I could exclude off the top of my head are Toni Morrison and Saul Bellow.

    • Tayde Rodríguez Gabarrón says:


    • Bill Roach says:

      To the teatoller who thinks drinking is a crutch …well, I guess that he must be in the perfect weight and in shape…because some people like to over eat and write…and isn’t that a crutch in his mind?

    • Charlie Gerancher says:

      Interesting, but let’s not post that infographic in classrooms!

    • Amar kumar says:

      Hey Mary,

      Glad to read your wonderful post,

      I have no such experience with alcohol but after your post certainly it proves alcohol boosts mind creativity.

      Alcohol has characteristics to make personality fearless free writer but some thing has positive aspects, negative aspects are also along it.

      Heavy drinking of alcohol make your personality i.e, physically as well as mentally dull.

      Thanks for sharing your worthy post, looking forward for a positive reply from you.

      With best regards,

      Amar kumar

    • Tracis says:

      One of my best recent poems was written under the influence of two glasses of French Champagne. It has been recommended that I publish this poem.

      I would not condone “drinking for one’s art” if you tend towards alcoholism.However, if you don’t tend towards alcoholism–Give it a try!

    • inatheblue says:

      Instead of alcohol try writing when relaxed with your favourite music of choice. Write late at night, moderately sleep deprived. Write in the autumn, when the sombre weather makes you half asleep anyway. Write after reading other books or poetry, which makes you unwind and get inspiration. Write (in your head, or dictaphone) when bicycling or taking a long walk, when your mind runs idle. There is a thousand ways to boost the same regions of the brain without the alcohol, and neurobiology supports it. While occasional alcohol use is okay, everyday use (and you want to write everyday) leads to alcohol dependence. The aforementioned writers did not live long and two of them killed themselves. Poe died of alcohol overdose, Capote died because his liver refused to work. It’s not worth it.

    • Mark Tong says:

      Excellent ideas here – I think the question is not whether being drunk helps you write but does writing help you get drunk. I am often drunk on my own words.

    • S says:

      Hi Mary,

      I really enjoyed this one 🙂

      It is kind of how it works for me too. The other thing is also about food, not to be full and not to be super hungry.

      Hope you have a great day!

    • Terry says:

      Hi all,

      I can give you the science behind this as I looked into it as part of my degree.

      It’s all to do with the way the creativity works. When we get a spark of inspiration, it comes to mind in the frontal lobes. However, the right temporal lobe acts as a filter. Creative people have the right balance between quality and quantity.

      in 2010 I had part of my right temporal lobe removed, a treatment for epilepsy. Since then I’ve published a novel, forged a career as a genre fiction writer and attained a degree in creative writing. The down side to this is that I’m permanently living with a veil over my mind, like everything’s slowed down. I’ve never drunk so so can’t say if it’s like being drunk or not.

    • Muthi says:

      Drats! Looks like i will never think out of the box……

    • EN Heim says:

      Great article. Now I know what to do.

    • Teddy says:

      I have a tendency to write when I am a little over-tired, but not completely exhausted, so I guess my motto could be “Write tired, edit awake”.

      If you are opposed to alcohol, give writing tired a try.

    • Lloyd says:

      I came across a box containing all the papers I wrote in college. When I sorted them by letter grade, I noticed that all the “A “papers were written at night and into the early morning, after I had been out drinking with my fraternity. I wrote the papers graded “B” and lower when I was sober. Anecdotal, true, but I learned something about how I write well.

    • love the article! but i wonder what they were on when they wrote Alice in Wonderland?

    • James says:

      Also take it as metaphor: write like a drunk, just throwing caution to the wind; edit like a sober person, sensitive to all the ramifications.

    • I’ve used this line ever since I first heard it. But I don’t drink (once a year at an annual party, and not much), so I chose to look at it as taking out that filter we all have between brain and mouth whenever I write, and then putting it back in (maybe only partially) when I edit. I also liked S. King’s line, “All first drafts are crap” (he used the S-word), and i made one up: “Just tell the damn story and then find a good editor.” The combo seems to work okay for me. Cheers, all.

    • Laszlo A. Voros says:

      I occasionally watch a movie while I write. It get’s my blood up. Action adventure, James Bond, Mission Impossible, Jason Bourne, Indiana Jones. Good horror, like Peter Cushing Christopher Lee, Vincent Price anything by Stephen King
      . Or a very good drama, like the Prince of Tides.
      Well I turned on HBO and sat in front of my Smith Corona Portable (God rest it’s soul, I loved it). Well I was watching a movie my sister would say I don’t usually watch “Chariots of Fire.”
      Well I began and thought after twenty minutes, “It’s kinda slow.”
      So I said ok time to make your own magic. So I put a paper in the typewriter and wrote a paragraph and then a second, read and threw it out. Second paper. Wrote a paragraph, then a second, read and threw it out. I did that three more times. Apparently I’m not much for “write first edit later.”
      So I grabbed myself a glass of Chablis and sipped it. After a half an hour, and deciding the movie was better than I thought, I decided to get down to business. I stuck in paper number six and wrote a paragraph, a second, and a third. I wrote it read it, and just as I went “AAAH!” I stopped.
      I said, “Wait a minute two pages ago the cop did this so this works. I went back two pages, and suddenly like a magnesium flare, this light exploded to life in my brain and I shoved page after page into the typewriter. Eight pages in an hour. I was on fire, and it was the greatest high on the planet. Sometimes a drink will help you relax, and free your mind.
      One famous writer (I forget who) said, “I’m not saying that all young writers need to become drunkards to write. But I’ve thought of stuff drunk that I never would have thought of sober.

      • srl says:

        You thought Prince of Tides was good? You lose points, dude.

    • I have recently self published my first YA Novel and must admit that most of the creative thinking and writing was done in the early morning. Maybe it was the percentage of alcohol still in my system that enabled me to be creative?? All my editing was done at night, so sober.
      So “Writing drunk and edit sober” worked for me.

    • Karen says:

      I don’t think this post promotes alcohol abuse at all – just some interesting information, presented in a fun, graphic way. Love it!

    • Deena says:

      I’m disappointed that WTD has published an article that on some level “glorifies” using a crutch such as drinking in order to write more creatively. Alcoholism is a terrible disease, and alcohol abuse is dangerously rampant in our world. Encouraging its use in this way is irresponsible. This post is out of character for a fabulous website.

      • Laszlo A. Voros says:

        Alcohol isn’t a crutch unless you let it become one. Some people can take it some cannot.

      • MindingMyOwn says:

        Factual information should never be censored.

        Despite, or in direct spite of, those who wish to control everyone else, you own your body. Put into it whatever you wish and the micro-managers of other people’s lives can do the same with their own.

    • Lee Allen says:

      Very interesting, to say the least. My evening habit is one glass of red wine (good for the heart), but by then I’m getting ready for bed and a good, relaxed read. That’s better, in my view, than all the spendy tranqs on earth. For years now, I haven’t “fallen” asleep, I’ve drifted into it — with the occasional idea floating free in the old noodle, which I usually retrieve in the morning. Such as “My Journal: DIAL TONE,” in which a rogue cop is terrorizing LA while he tries to blame the one who’s narrating the journal for a certain murder. It’s the first in at least a trilogy, next novel being “My Journal: BALL CLUB,” a crazy killer loose in the western US armed with a metal baseball bat. Then I’ll be working on “SHOWDOWN,” #3 and MAYBE the concluding episode. But I can’t write drunk, because one glass of red Port just doesn’t DO that to me! No, I’m not going to try it, I find it easier to get over a working all-nighter than a hang-over! For those who can, though, SUCCESS to you! ! ! ; – ) ; – ) ; – )

    • well I personally affirm that consumption of alcohol can link up with writing owing to the effect that it suppress the individual worries and provides totally freedom of ideas nd expressions which enchance their literacy skills and get better output.

    • Nicolas says:

      It might allow the ideas to flow but some people can’t pick up not even one little Drink. For them there is no such thing as a little drink. I know it
      Stimulates the brain and probably helps get the ideas flowing.
      But when it comes to writing and your sitting down at your typewriter or computer what ever you prefer to use.you just let your mind flow and
      Write, write, write.

    • Robin Smith says:

      My thought is that alcohol lowers inhibitions and in that sense, probably allows ideas to flow more freely without censoring. It’s similar to the idea behind Morning Pages, writing first thing in the morning before that internal censor has kicked in. The difference would be that Morning Pages are intended to be directed toward the self, writing (for publishing) toward an audience, but the same freedom would be in play.

    • Anh Nguyen says:


      Thanks for sharing with us this mind-opening infographic. I’m not a big fan of alcohol but I can see where writing a bit tipsy (not drunk) can help you relax and keep yourself from hitting that backspace button every minute. I wonder if it would work as well for non-fiction writers like myself though. 😛


    • I know that tavern scenes are great to exploit in a book to pull in characters, insert valuable conversations and establish numerous plot elements. I’ve encouraged my clients to use them in their books. I just didn’t think the author should be IN a tavern to write it! This was a fun and scientifically revealing article–thanks!

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