Nectar of the Gods: The Relationship Between Writers and Alcohol
by Alex Schumacher
The wind has shifted and you are now being assaulted by the harbingers of another installment of the hard-nosed advice column you have come to know and loathe, Bread Crumbs from the Void! The grating, incessant echo of taps on the keyboard violates your ears. The familiar perfume of bullshit fused with honesty molests your nostrils. Plant your ass and pour yourself a tall glass of your favorite adult beverage, because this installment begins now!
Whiskey. Gin. Absinthe. Wine. Whatever your poison may be, there is an extensive and storied history regarding the creative vessel’s necessity – or at least proclivity – for the bottle. It is a tortured dance, an agonizing mambo which for many a scribe has led to both staggering works of genuine ingenuity as well as the plummeting depths of despair. There are those, like myself, who require a touch of mental lubricant to allow for the ideas to materialize and filter in an unfettered manner. My closest friend and confidant Evan Williams provides me with propulsion, the nitrous oxide overriding the impulse in my brain attempting to convince me I will pen an absolute piece of shit.
For me there is a tenuous line to tow between the assistance of slight buzz and the vehement obloquy of intoxication. The affair with liquor varies wildly from writer to writer. To provide a bit more of an equitable representation I strong-armed a few of my wordsmith friends into contributing their own experiences.
Nathan Allan Schwartz (EIC of Five 2 One Magazine/Poet):
I’ve never been a big fan of writing drunk because I feel like being drunk means I can’t be in the present moment. My head is spinning. My stomach is probably silently turning. And I’d lose focus if someone said “hey can you take out the trash” and worst of all I’d have to examine what I wrote in the morning with a hangover. This isn’t to say I haven’t tried writing drunk obviously. I have. For me though, I’d rather edit almost instantly after I get the first draft out. As a poet I think my feelings come natural when I’m writing poetry. I think for many others this may be true too. But I know there are some poets that need to get inebriated to let out their feelings. Granted it’s not the same sort of feeling that a fiction writer or even an essayist might feel when they need to let loose on whatever it is they are writing. I can def see the benefits to being intoxicated while staring at the blank screen or pad. I’m not against anybody that does it and don’t think is anything wrong with those that do. I do have an alternate to being drunk on booze. I get drunk on music. Music provides that same sort of feeling for me more so at concerts when I can actually feel the feeling of being lost in the music and forget who I am for a while. After a concert I can come back to my computer or a piece of paper and slam out several poems. But, this also works when I am in my room and turn the music up full blast close my eyes and just be inside the beauty bubble of music. I’m a square what can I say.
Betsy Streeter (Brainwaves, Neptune Road, Silverwood):
I have vivid memories of my dad sitting in the backyard at my grandmother’s house in Sacramento, where it would be 100-plus degrees all summer, and he’d be there in his undershirt with one leg crossed in a V over the other and sipping Budweiser from a can. Us kids would be lighting these black snake-like firework things on the concrete and watching them spit sparks and squiggle around. When it got dark we’d get into the sparklers.
These days, when I think about drinking, my mind goes to sitting in a yard somewhere with mellow people and a beer or a glass of wine. It’s a particular type of a space where everything slows down and expands a little.
That hasn’t always been the case. In college, I achieved legendary status for various partying activities. And that’s fine too. But it doesn’t define how I think about drinking and writing now. Oh yes, I mentioned writing.
When you’re a writer you’re always writing because the under-brain never stops collecting information and putting it through your unique bizarro-filter that becomes your voice. Sleeping, standing in the grocery store checkout line, playing piano, anything – it’s all information and it all has the potential to end up in your work.
Sitting in the backyard on a hot evening, putting on somebody’s playlist and going on vast conversational tangents, that’s a time when the under-brain knits stuff together, cleans up shop. You have to calm and let that process take place. I don’t go for this “sit at the typewriter and bleed” stuff. I think a lot of writing is just shutting the hell up for five minutes. And that’s what I get from a good beer and a nice place to sit.
Find more from Betsy here: http://betsystreeter.com/
Gabriel Ricard (Bondage Night, Clouds of Hungry Dogs):
Peter De Vries, You Kooky Asshole: Booze and Writing – “Write drunk, edit sober” has been attributed to Ernest Hemingway for years. Nonetheless, he didn’t say it. De Vries did, and he was writing the opinion of a character he created, allegedly based on Dylan Thomas. Either way, and I write this as someone who has been an active, largely functional drunk for approximately twenty years, it is dreadful advice. Even if Hemingway had said that, his well-documented work habits would indicate he didn’t put it into practice. The truth of the matter is that very few do. Like most alcoholic writers/other artists I know, the serious drinking occurs when we’re not working.
Writing with a substantial hangover is something else entirely, and I don’t think there’s room to discuss it here. The short version is that it’s a natural byproduct of making bad decisions on a Wednesday night. I’m getting older. As a result, I can’t navigate the obscenely vivid world of the horrible morning after. Keeping this in mind usually stops me from getting too drunk, if I have to work the next day.
Anyone who is proud of being a drunk writer is proud of being a shitty cliché. Don’t read their books. Unapologetic is fine. That isn’t the same thing as pride, which largely comes from people who clearly need to reread their Bukowski, their Dorothy Parker, and definitely their Hemingway. I’m largely unapologetic. If I am racked with guilt about something that involves my boozing, I save it for the writing.
Does that mean I’ve never written drunk? Of course not. I have. Many times. It’s just not the preference. I don’t need booze to be creative. I don’t think I ever have. I know a few drunk writers who drink to quiet their insecurity, to the point of being able to hear and touch their creativity. I’ve probably done that without realizing it, but honestly, I don’t want to be too relaxed when I write. I like to have my music and other things around, but everything is designed to intensify my concentration. Drinking doesn’t work on my anxiety like that.
But yeah, I’ve written drunk. I’ve written poems, columns, freelance work, and half a novel in some state of vice-centric madness or another. I’ve never really enjoyed those times. Or at least, I don’t have great, blurry memories of writing things drunk I never would have considered sober. I guess it’s a good sign that as far as being a writer goes, I like what I do enough to want to remember it. That need is generally stronger than my need to drink.
But when I’m done writing? Pour me a few. My drinking routine has steadily improved with time, and I no longer feel the consistent need to drink all the bourbon in North America. Still, I drink more than I probably should.
In terms of an ongoing relationship to my creativity, drugs are a slightly different story, but again, we don’t have a ton of space here.
Find more from Gabriel here: https://www.facebook.com/barnaclelapse
Of course this is not to say that either abstaining or partaking in grandpa’s cough medicine cultivates more accomplished writing. This aspect is one of myriad factors in the individual process. Just as the chair you use, your writing utensils, or the word processing program of your choice, alcohol can add or detract from the overall comfort and connection to your creative drive. It could be the fuel in your jet engine or the gasoline in the Molotov cocktail searing your very soul. Whether or not alcohol plays a vital role in your artistic endeavors is entirely up to you.
You will never hear me say that a particular individual is not a legitimate writer or artist simply because they refrain from drinking. You will never hear me say it aloud, anyway.
As always, if you would like to hear me elaborate a bit more on my own process, you can find links to a couple of interviews conducted recently with me on my website at: https://alexschumacherart.com/about/. Drop me a line from the contact page if you have any other questions, complaints, insults, or declarations of lust.
Bread Crumbs from the Void will return in two weeks with another thrilling edition of hard-nosed reality for you big-talkers and wannabes. Until next time, keep scribbling you freaks.
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