Writing and booze: was Ernest Hemingway right?

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“Write drunk, edit sober” said Ernest Hemingway. And he sure knew a thing or two about a) writing and b) drinking alcohol.

That remark of his has a lot of sense in it, although not the getting drunk bit. Why?

Because many authors and other creative types agree that consuming “booze” has a way of unleashing your inhibitions and allowing your creative impulses to flow freely into areas they wouldn’t if you were drinking tea.

Depending on how you use booze, however, you could be enjoying uninhibited inspiration at the expense of your liver and other key health issues.

Hemingway, bless him, only lived to the age of 62. However we don’t know whether booze was an issue in his death, because he committed suicide.

Are we wrong to regard alcoholic drinks as public enemies?

Much as the medical wallahs promote the dictats put out by government agencies (e.g. the NHS in the UK) that more than N number of units of alcohol consumption per day is potentially harmful to your health, the reality is that of course, many of us exceed those safe limits from time to time.

Having said that, some of the best articles, blog posts and book chapters of mine have been drafted of an evening when I have been not drunk, but a little mellowed by a large glass of a good white Burgundy.

And yes, I do go back and edit when sober the next morning, as our Ernest so wisely suggested. Much as it may encourage unhealthy living, his formula does work.

HTWB BoozeWhat’s the answer? Booze and create? No booze and dry up?

I can hear it now. “If you need a glass of wine to write something worthwhile you’re probably a crappy writer to start with.” Happily, facts, Amazon statistics and my bank accounts show that this does not apply in my case.

Much as I enjoy a glass of wine, trust me … when I do the serious stuff it’s more likely to be written from early morning through daylight hours. As all my friends know, when I do drink it’s never before sundown, and never if I have to do anything even vaguely responsible.

Some booze warnings

If you use a glass of something alcoholic to loosen your creative thoughts for your writing, it’s important that you do observe Uncle Ernest’s advice (see above). Even after just one drink your judgment will have been altered.  So …

Always edit your work the next morning or soon afterwards. This way you will remember the feelings you had about that piece of writing when you’d had the drink the night before (if you don’t remember then you really have had too much!) … but you will be clear-headed and see where your writing has been repetitive, overly emotional, not as funny as it seemed at the time, etc.

If you have composed an email, letter or other document – whether social or for business – never, ever send it if you have written it after even one alcoholic drink. Always check it when you are alert and sober in case you have written things you may regret later.

By all means use writing as a means of letting off steam and de-stressing, along with a glass of something boozy if you want. Alcohol is a good muscle relaxant (but also, particularly if you overdo it, it’s a depressant.) So in moderation the two activities can help get unpleasant or sad loads off your mind. Just remember to hit the delete key afterwards.

Don’t let that glass of wine or whisky become a daily habit, even if you write every day. It’s all too easy to slip into a regular pattern that increases over time, leading to all kinds of health and other problems.

Do you find that a glass of wine / beer / a cocktail etc. helps you to write with more inspiration?

Or would you condemn such views as being decadent and frivolous, avowing that coffee or other energy drinks … or even a brisk walk in the fresh air … are preferable alternatives?

Please share your views … would love to see them and learn from them.

While you’re here, don’t forget to stop by my Bookshop…books and eBooks to help you write better – and to give to friends and family…




  1. I also tend to get more creative in the evening. The way I see it, if it works for you . . . . Didn’t seem to do it in the end for Hemingway, though, did it? I’ve learned to always give posts at least a day before I review and revisit (I never could proof work I’d just written), no matter what state of mind I’m in when I write them. I’ve learned too, to sit on e-mails written with passion. It’s amazing how a day can change your perspective :-).

    • You’re right Nanette – it really is so important to leave your written work for a while and go back to it with a fresh outlook. Even if you’re in a hurry and can only leave it for an hour, that’s better than nothing.