Ernest Hemingway, a favorite writer of mine, is famously quoted as saying “Write drunk, edit sober.” It is no secret that Papa was a fan of alcohol, however, the amount to which it played a part in creating many of his masterpieces of prose is dubious at best. There is no disputing that Hemingway liked to drink, and there is no disputing that alcohol itself played a large part in the content of many of his greatest works (my favorite included), but it is surprising to learn that alcohol actually had very little to do with the creation of these same works.
“That’s not how he wrote,” Hemingway’s granddaughter Mariel Hemingway said in an interview, “he never wrote drunk, he never wrote beyond early, early morning.”
So if the man himself did not follow this advice, what can be gained from it? Well, a lot actually. First, there are many, many correctly attributed quotes about drinking from Hemingway; like “I drink to make other people more interesting,” which I happen to have engraved on my favorite flask. And secondly, there still might be some truth to the quote. There’s actually a surprising amount of science behind it, in fact. Drinking, in moderation (with a hard limit at .07% BAC), can help spur creativity by inhibiting that ever-present editor in the brain. What can be detrimental to conversation can be vital to writing creatively; without a filter, every idea can come out, good and bad, and that is where editing sober comes into play.
So, in conclusion, writing drunk and editing sober is good advice when not taken literally. To me, it means (whether tipsy or sober), to write uninhibited, and to edit diligently, and that’s advice for anyone.