Daily Rituals #2 – Write Drunk, Edit Sober?

There is some dispute about whether Ernest Hemingway actually said the words, “write drunk, edit sober”. Whether or not this is an authentic Hemingway quote, this saying has become quite popular in artistic circles. Some see the popularity of this quote as a glorification of addiction. Others take this advice quite literally seeking to imitate their artistic role models in both life and art. I think there is something deeper at work here.


Ernest Hemingway Collection. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

This leads me to my second observation from Daily Rituals: How Artists Work

The majority of those profiled had a significant drug and/or alcohol problem.

A cliché about the creative personality? For sure, but even a casual look into the daily rituals of the 161 world-renowned artists profiled in Daily Rituals reveals a prevalence of substance abuse that is hard to miss. The reasons for this reality are generally not hard to see. There are some that use mind-altering substances for the express purpose of expanding their creativity. For other it is a symptom of their obsessive-compulsive personalities. For some, it functioned as an anesthetic numbing significant personal pain. Arguably for many their substance abuse proved fruitful in freeing them from their personal issue for a season. However, many times their excesses in drug and alcohol use lead to a decline in creative output, declining health, and sometimes even death. A two edged sword.

Rather than taking Hemingway’s advice literally, let’s take a different approach. I think what we are observing here is the pursuit of creative freedom. As anyone who spends any amount of time doing creative work knows there is an ongoing battle between the idea generation process and the editing process. The battle between the “editor” and “free creativity” is a classic artistic roadblock. The voice of the “editor” can be difficult to turn off. Let’s look at some healthier examples of this ongoing pursuit of creative freedom.


Pat Pattison at Berklee

Pat Pattison, a professor at Berklee School of Music in Boston, shared his first Nashville co-writing experience in his blog post, CO-WRITING: THE “NO” FREE ZONE. Being new to the Nashville process of co-writing songs, he was nervous.

Pat describes his state of mind in his own words:

“I was waiting in the SESAC writer’s room with my notes and titles, some complete lyrics, song ideas, and I was feeling nervous. I, after all, am a big-time Professor at the biggest time music school in the world – Berklee, where I teach lyric writing. What if I can’t come up with anything? What if he thinks all my ideas are dumb? They don’t look too good to me right now either…”

His co-writer entered the room and double checked to see that the door was sufficiently shut. Setting the stage for their co-writing session, he encouraged Pat to say everything that came to his mind. Don’t censoring anything not matter how dumb it may seem. A dumb idea may lead the other writer to a less dumb idea which may lead to a good idea which might lead to a great idea. But it all starts from the freedom to SAY DUMB THINGS.


James Altucher

James Altucher

Business guru, James Altucher suggests a daily practice that he calls exercising the “Idea Muscle”. He writes down ten ideas per day, every day. The topics vary day to day but the practice stays the same. He suggests this practice as a way of keeping your creativity “in shape”.

Here’s his advice for those who find it hard to come up with ten ideas per day:

“Here’s the magic trick: if you can’t come up with ten ideas, come up with 20 ideas. You are putting too much pressure on yourself.  Perfectionism is the ENEMY of the idea muscle. Perfectionism is your  brain trying to protect you from harm. From coming up with an idea that  is embarassing and stupid and could cause you to suffer pain.”

The point being that if you struggle to come up with ten ideas you aren’t allowing yourself the freedom to come up with something that might be a bad idea.

Click here to read the rest of James’ thoughts on this subject.



Matt Redman

Matt Redman

Well known songwriter, Matt Redman has this advice. “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open”. Start your writing process with a “closed door” sense of freedom, writing like no one is listening. The time for the “open door” objective editing process will come later. Fellow worship songwriter Paul Baloche talks about staying in a place of play as long as possible in the initial songwriting process.



John Wimber, Founder of the Vineyard Movement

Many theologians refer to John Wimber as “The Great Practitioner” due to his emphasis on “Doing the Stuff”, walking out the Kingdom ministry of Jesus in daily life. With this in mind, I am reminded of the often quoted John Wimber saying “Faith is spelled “R-I-S-K”. While this quote has a specific ministry context, I think this idea can bleed into all areas of our lives. This idea of “risking” involves being freed up from what others may think of us. Wimber is giving us the freedom to look foolish as we step out into unfamiliar territory walking out our creative calling. 

Also built in to Wimber’s thinking on this subject is the reality that our creative work is a partnership with the Holy Spirit. As the Holy Spirit works in us, we can experience a deeper level of creative freedom beyond the effects of other substance – a true freedom born from the God of Creation. 


Question – What are ways you find creative freedom?

Question – What does your creative routine look like? What are your best practices?


(for the first post in the Daily Rituals series “Working On A Maker’s Schedule” click here)


Daily Rituals: How Artists Work written by Mason Currey is a book that documents the daily life rhythms of “161 inspired, and inspiring, minds—among them, novelists, poets, playwrights, painters, philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians.” Each short chapter focuses on one person’s daily work. Some of the notable people profiled in Daily Rituals include Ernest Hemingway, Jane Austen, Mozart, Picasso, Benjamin Franklin, Georgia O’Keeffe, Søren Kierkegaard, Frank Lloyd Wright, and many others.

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2 thoughts on “Daily Rituals #2 – Write Drunk, Edit Sober?

  1. The idea of writing/editing with open/closed door coupled with taking a risk to same something foolish is another angle on a question that has been rolling around in my mind for some time. When writing or performing music we are rewarded for thinking on our feet, being interpretative, empathetic, spontaneous, creative etc. Those same qualities can mess you up in a hard contract negotiation type of business meeting.
    In my life I’ve said things that could be misunderstood, and haven’t always had a great need to clarify. Which I now think is a mistake. Music is communication with an additional emotional component, that can assist or hinder the message transmission.
    Its interesting that I read this article today, as this morning I dumped two years worth of musical ideas from my iphone to my computer (so I could upgrade IOS). It got me thinking about the lyrical content and wondering if there was a way to identify and capture good lyrical ideas in the same way I you can record a melodic or chordal idea. Of course there is, but I’m wondering if I can develop the faculty’s necessary to identify the moment, stop, record, save it, return and develop it later.
    After reading this I had a weird idea to record every foolish or ill-thought communcation…not sure if that would be a step in the right direction or not 🙂

  2. Jesus said one’s eye should be “single”, to have light inside. Odd saying, considering we have two eyes. This gives rise to the idea of “THE eye” being our spiritual sight. I once had a crystal radio, and it received two radio stations at once. It was a mess. When people’s minds and hearts are crowded by the encroachments of the world, it is easy for our spiritual perceptions to become muddled, lending credence to the expression “hard to hear myself think”. In the world, people silence the world (or at least muffle it) to some extent by imbibing in sensory altering substances. But in Christ, we can literally turn up the Spirit to drown out the world, by actively and passionately pursuing the Lord in worship. You can’t play the “Dwell” CD without getting a sense of that, and worship music is a great way to break any log jam of the heart.