‘Write drunk; edit sober’ is Hemingway’s oft-quoted advice.
I drank my way through the first book I wrote.
Not the work I did in daylight hours; that was fuelled by multiple forms of caffeine and slabs of Cadbury’s pop-rock chocolate. But the stuff I wrote at night.
My night-time routine always involved wine.
I didn’t actually write drunk. I drank as I wrote, enough to let me coast over the roughness of words, paragraphs, chapters. The Vaccines and the Wombats sizzled through my headphones, the same songs looping so many times they didn’t signify anything anymore. I wrote fast and loud.
My characters drank too. I believe in the value of method writing – though clearly, depending on genre and subject matter and legalities and the inclinations of the author, it has its limits.
Throughout history, creativity and intoxication have been linked. Research suggests that, for some tasks, intoxication allows a kind of forgetting that may lead to increased creativity.
Many artists have incorporated literal intoxication as part of their creative process. Another view would be to say that many artists are alcoholics or addicts who nonetheless have managed to write.
This article by Blake Morrison on why writers drink (which takes the latter view) provides a comprehensive list of North American authors famous for their drinking:
‘…Poe, Hemingway, Faulkner (“I usually write at night. I always keep my whiskey within reach”), Hart Crane, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Dorothy Parker (“I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy”), Ring Lardner, Raymond Chandler, O Henry, Jack London, Delmore Schwartz, F Scott Fitzgerald, (“Too much champagne is just right”), John Berryman, Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, Anne Sexton, Patricia Highsmith – the list is long even without including those, such as Hunter S Thompson, more renowned for their experiments with other substances (“I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me”).’
The truth is: making things can be messy. Making things can be scary. Making things can require all kinds of wild leaps that are difficult to accomplish when sober.
Make drunk, if it’s what works for you.
Right now, I’m writing sober.
It wasn’t a decision I made for myself, but in support of someone else, and sticking to it has been challenging.
Life is full of hard edges and drinking is often how I soften them. I write in the margins, often in the times when I might otherwise be socialising with actual human beings (as opposed to the ones in my head). I write in time in which I might otherwise feel moments of freedom.
Sometimes, when life feels endlessly constrained, taking a drink feels like being free.
But for me, there are costs.
One is exhaustion. I’m tired most of the time as it is. These days, with a day-job and a toddler, when I drink, I don’t want to work; I want to sleep. Simple as that.
Another is the blur. There’s a sweet spot, one drink perhaps, that softens and loosens, but not too much. Beyond that it becomes hard for me to maintain clarity when I write. I’m more likely to veer off course, which is something I’m prone to even when sober.
Three: Dependency. It’s easy to fall into a routine. It’s easy, for me, for writing and drinking to become twinned; to feel that, in order to write, I need to drink, or my reward if I write should be a glass of something.
If I hope to write every day, for the rest of my life, then that link is probably best broken.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you write and drink? Does alcohol help or hinder your creative process?