Why do #Writers Drink?

 Read this recent article in the Guardian, about writers and alcohol:

Does it help writers to drink? Do they drink any more heavily than
any other social group – doctors, lawyers, shop assistants or (see Mad Men) advertising executives? A famous drinker himself, Amis considers this question in his Memoirs,
and – comparing writers to actors – suggests “displaced stage fright as
a cause of literary alcoholism. A writer’s audience is and remains
invisible to him, but if he is any good he is acutely and continuously
aware of it, and never more so while it waits for him to come on, to
begin p.1. Alcohol not only makes you less self-critical, it reduces
fear.” According to Amis, a large glass can supply “that final burst of
energy at the end of the day” but should be avoided any earlier: “The
writer who writes his books on, rather than between, whisky is a lousy
writer. He is probably American anyway.”

Amis had little time for
American writers, which explains the prejudice behind that last remark.
But it’s true that modern American literature is strewn with examples of
alcoholic excess: 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”). 

I’ve never found alcohol very helpful while writing, but I confess I gorge on chocolates and tea when I’m in writing distress. The blank page is terrifying (as is a page filled with crap that needs to be re-written) and I take what assistance I can get, only it isn’t alcohol. But alcohol and writers are obviously a popular mix, and someone has gone to the trouble of writing an entire book about it: A Drinking Companion. I’ll pick this up if I see it.

The article goes on to say:

Why do writers drink? Why does anyone drink? From boredom, loneliness,
habit, hedonism, lack of self-confidence; as stress relief or a
short-cut to euphoria; to bury the past, obliterate the present or
escape the future…… the words on the page are what matter. And most of them
get there despite the drinking, not because of it. “Drank like a fish,
wrote like an angel,” would make a pleasing epitaph. “Drank like a fish,
wrote like a fish” is more likely.

Do you need fortification before you can sit down and write a story, a blog post, an article, a novel? Does it ever take the form of alcohol?

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Add Yours
  1. Bryan Atneosen

    Mistake #1 is to assume that all writers who drink, drink for the same reason…or the same reason, every time they drink. Obviously alcohol affects individuals differently (happy drunk, mean drunk, etc…)so each case should be examined the same way, individually. When I write,(usually in the evenings)I select my drink according to the nature of the topic, and my current state of mind, and physical energy levels. All people are slowed down by drinking, and most lose their inhibitions. Sometimes "slow" is the right speed to fully examine all the perspectives and facts.

  2. JO

    No – I don't need alcohol before I write. But in the evening, curled by the fire with a book on my knee and the light fading outside – then there's nothing better than a glass of wine. (Speaking of which … it's getting late …)

  3. Guilie

    Another pro-WUI here (and thanks to whoever above that came up with that one!). I write pretty much all day, when I'm not rescuing dogs or working in the yard (or, very seldom, cleaning the house), but if I'm writing at night–found the groove, got the scene worked out, got to get those words down before it all vanishes, you know how it goes–a bottle of wine is great company. Do I drink in order to write? No. Do I write in order to drink? Uh, no. I don't drink because I write, or write because I drink; I drink–and write–because I enjoy it. BUT I do believe WUI might help produce more cut-down-to-the-bone prose, simply because any activity UI forces the brain to work in a different way. Healthy it's not, but if writers were about healthy we'd all be out running triathlons instead of sitting for hours on end in front of a keyboard, no?

  4. Hart Johnson

    I drink more than I probably should… like a drink in particular when I write. I am analytical all day long and what I need to do to WRITE is get out of my way… to RELAX my brain… Not proud of it, but a drink is one of the ways to do that.

  5. lancemyblogcanbeatupyourblog

    There's an oral fixation meets rhythm of drink to mouth thing that seems to make my pencil hit the paper or fingers to keyboard. I'm a husband and father but when the kids aren't around, beer or whiskey seems to be my writing companions. When they are around, diet dr pepper sits in.

    I think it's a combination of mental illness (i'm bipolar) versus liquid courage making the words come out of a writer's psyche.

  6. Tina

    I'm a wine drinker, but since I write in the mornings, I don't drink-n-write. Wine relaxes me and helps me unwind at the end of the day, and I enjoy sipping while I prepare dinner. Not sure if it would help or hinder my writing since I've never tried combining them…
    Tina @ Life is Good

  7. Kriti Bhatnagar

    It's alcohol for alcoholic…shopping for shopaholic, food for foodaholic…I guess it works that way. A thing that could divert your attention for a while providing you with that much needed stress free relaxed environment!

    Perhaps people tend to emphasize more on alcohol coz it undoubtedly takes out the true feelings about the concerned subject or perhaps about anything on mind that time. And that's all a writer wants…to write down his heart and mind! 🙂

  8. CommonMan

    A subtle yet nice post. Try out Idly and Sambar and something happens. The sambar acts as a steroid and there you go — the page gets written.

  9. aamjunta

    Drinking never helps.

    People argue that “an intellectual breaks stereotypes and societal norms by drinking. In fact, we get cool ideas and inspiration after a drink. Moreover, you may not gain entry into high profile circles if you do not share a drink — you would not be called an intellectual.“

    But, I would say…

    "I don’t drink because I want to break this new norm that has been established by intellectual community. By breaking tradition through drinking you are also creating new tradition of drinking. I refuse to be a part of any. My intellectualism (if that is what it means) is not to follow any tradition, and I refuse to follow ‘the intellectual tradition’. If getting drunk defines intellectualism, then I refuse to be called an intellectual.”



  10. Mark Koopmans


    I'll stick up for the wine drinkers:)

    I'm a stay-at-home Dad, so normally wind-down time = writing time, which equates to relaxing Trance music and a glass or few of Cabernet Sauvignon.

    (I'm a firm believer in multi-tasking 🙂

    Cheers for a quaffable post 🙂

    • Damyanti

      Hehe, now i must try drunk writing. Some of my characters refuse to die despite me wanting them dead from the first page onwards.

  11. Shelly Arkon

    I drink water and tea. I also have the occasional chocolate binge. Dark chocolate only. It has lass sugar. Alcohol would put me in the hospital since i'm allergic.

    Hugs and chocolate,

  12. D.G. Hudson

    No, I drink coffee or hot tea during the writing and maybe a glass of wine after, but not during. Drinking may relax us, but it also muddles the brain's thinking.

    I know that many of those writers had health problems after or died young. It was a socially acceptable thing to do when these gals and guys were young. Many never grew out of the habit.

    Perhaps the real reason for drinking is the fear of not being good enough. That's always a problem for anyone creative.

  13. Karen Jones Gowen

    I don't drink alcohol so no but definitely a diet Coke addict. I try not to do mindless eating as my body can't use the calories and writing is a sedentary job. But diet Coke in its many forms works just fine to keep me going when in distress in front of my laptop.