Are Writers Better When They’re Drunk?
One man’s thoughts on the trope and the realities of “the alcoholic author”
I am a writer and I drink.
Not very unique, is it?
Non-writers might assume that most writers are alcoholics and with good reason. Bukowski, Carver, and Williams are all linked together by the fact that they are revered authors… as well as alcoholics.
This has me wondering: does alcohol make you a better writer?
I Have Experience, but I Am No Expert
I want to start off by stating that I am not a mental health expert and this story is neither a thesis or rooted in any kind of scientific fact, and should not be treated as such.
The only real hope I have for this story is that it may serve as a conversation starter and a point of common ground regarding a mental health issue that surrounds not just artists, but all kinds of people.
I do my best to drink responsibly and I do my best to write well. That is all the experience I have.
Alcohol Doesn’t Make Me a Better Writer
Anyone who knows me personally is aware that bourbon is my spirit of choice. I enjoy it regularly and I have written while drinking. While the amount of writing I can do sometimes increases when I’m under the influence, the quality of what I write all too often decreases as a result.
This brings the apocryphal Hemingway quote “write drunk, edit sober” to mind. Alcohol can help me get the words out, but all this has ever really done is create more editorial work for me, which is the part of writing I like least.
While I’m drunk, some of the stuff I write comes across like an epiphany or like it’s of a higher quality than usual. Then, when I read it again the next day, it’s deserving of the round file and I find myself grateful that nobody will ever read it.
“They Wouldn’t Have Created This Without That”
If not for alcohol and other drugs, wouldn’t we be without some of our greatest art? Don’t all the famous authors who were alcoholics and addicts make the case that substances make you a better creator?
While it’s hard to deny that substances contribute to your experience of the world, and thereby influence art, I would argue against the idea that great art is dependent upon substance use.
I imagine some of you (and maybe some of the greats I mentioned above) would think me wrong, but hear me out.
Studying literature’s giants and your idols will undoubtedly make you wonder what they had that made their work so special. I don’t think any one thing makes a person a great creator. It is the sum of their existence including their choices and predispositions surrounding alcohol that makes them unique, even great.
It is my humble opinion that alcohol, whether you are addicted to it or you choose to enjoy it, doesn’t exclude or allow you to be a better writer. Practice, reading, and living make you a better writer.
My Final Thoughts… For Now
I no longer drink when I’m writing.
My personal belief is that creators and artists have everything they need to reach their greatest heights already within them. They just need to find it. Sometimes substances, from tea to heroin, can catalyze that discovery, but the tradeoff is that they can also hinder it.
I would love to read your thoughts on this subject, whether it be in a private note or in a comment below. Stay safe, and enjoy the process of writing!