Write Drunk, Edit Sober


Like me until recently, I bet you are unaware of two facts. Firstly, the phrase “Write drunk, edit sober.” was said by someone other than Ernest Hemingway. (It was apparently said by Peter DeVries in his book Ruben, Reuben.) How or why this was misattributed to Hemingway is a mystery, other than it fit his public persona; that of a hard drinking, bullfighting, big-game-hunting man’s man.

Secondly, the passport picture above is of Ernest Hemingway, and a very young Ernest Hemingway at that! If you’re anything like me, you associated Hemingway with an image of an older rugged-looking man with a bushy silver-hued beard wearing a fisherman’s sweater. Certainly not the serious young man encapsulated in this 1923 photograph.

Even though The Hem was enough of a male chauvinist philanderer to really rankle my feminist bias, I can’t help but like the guy. They say we’re the sum of our parts; or parents, if you get my drift. I suspect Ernest Hemingway was very much influenced by his parents, particularly his mother, who he detested. I don’t blame him either. What man wouldn’t hold a grudge against the woman who dressed him as a girl for the first few years of his life? It’s no wonder he continuously tried to prove his masculinity throughout his adult years!

If you’ve not embraced Hemingway as a writer beyond tenth-grade required reading, you’re missing out. My favorite Hemingway novels include The Sun Also Rises, which is a painful observation of a damaged World War I veteran, (and I mean “damaged” if you get my drift), and his unrequited love of a British aristocrat. I also bow in homage to The Hem for his masterful novella The Old Man and the Sea. Who knew a two character story, one being a fish, could be such a page turner? He went on to receive both the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes for the work. Seriously, it’s that good!

Okay, so what was the point of me fawning over a famous dead author like a school girl? It’s that he really is that good. Anyone aspiring to be a writer, professional or otherwise, can learn so much from his stories. He tirelessly flushed them out until they could be imparted in the fewest words possible. No fluff. I mean, literally, none.

The good news is that his stories are short. If you’re not up for a novel-length read, he wrote dozens of short stories too, many of which can be found online. My favorite is Hills Like White Elephants, in which a young couple ponder a traumatic decision without ever mentioning what it is. How’s that for artful writing?

If you fall in love with him like I have, I also recommend A Moveable Feast. It’s his memoir of his early years in Paris, France, which he probably entered using the passport pictured above. Although the adventures are likely slightly muddied by the passage of four decades, one still gets a feel for what it was like being part of the Lost Generation ex-pats who found their inspiration in the cafes and restaurants of the City of Light.

Do you have a go-to author when you need inspiration, or a reminder of what truly great writing is? Let us know in the comments below!

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