College is a time for experimenting with too much alcohol and writing badly about the bad sex you had. It’s the only way to figure out your drinking limitations and to learn to write better on a broader array of topics. Thanks to a famous quote from Ernest Hemingway, though, there will always be students in every creative writing class combining the two habits until the end of time.
“Write drunk, edit sober” was Hemingway’s decree. Despite the fact that this quote likely owes less to creative experimentation and more to the author’s legendarily raging alcoholism, it has become canonized in the annals of writerly advice. But is this directive valid, or is it just an excuse for indulging in one’s vices for the sake of art? A new infographic takes a closer look.
Created by Australian writing blog, The Expert Editor, “The Science Behind Writing Drunk and Editing Sober” reveals that Hemingway was definitely on to something. Using a variety of studies, “The Science Behind” demonstrates that at a fairly low threshold of alcohol, the brain actually is stimulated in creative ways the sober brain might not be. The part Hemingway got wrong, however, is that at the point of legit drunkenness the quality of one’s writing goes south, pronto. The author of For Whom the Bell Tolls may have built up an elephantine tolerance for alcohol, to the point where he could drink a fifth of whiskey and still crank out prose that would be studied decades later, but that doesn’t mean you can too, Guy Who Wants To Write a Roman a Clef About Working at Gimlet.
Have a further look at the infographic below to see how Hemingway’s idea tracks.