KingMidget's Ramblings

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Writers, Alcohol, and Early Death


Just in time, here’s an article about writers and alcohol.  Why “just in time”?  Because it seems to be one of the running themes from the writing workshop I’ve been in for the past three days.  So many great writers died early — many either from alcoholism or suicide.

The Amis principle – a glassful to relax with at your desk when most of the writing has been done – is fine for those with will power. But there’s the cautionary example of Jack London, who used to reward himself with a drink when he’d done half his daily quota of 1,000 words, then found himself unable to get started without one. The man takes a drink, then the drink takes the man.

What is it about art and creativity that leads so many down the path of self-destruction?  I have an idea, but it’s not very well-formed yet.  It goes something like this.  We spend so much time in our heads.  We spend so much time craving the opportunities to be alone and write.  We occupy a “career” or hobby that pushes to quiet loneliness (meaning others look at us as being anti-social) while at the same time wanting acceptance.  We crave silence — not just outer silence, but inner silence as well.  Those words and images and ideas for stories never stop whirring.  It’s an alphabet soup on hyperdrive up there in the ol’ noggin.

Drink can do wonderful things to slow down the soup, to quiet if only temporarily the noise in our heads.  Even when the reality is that we don’t want to quiet the noise.  The noise up there is our imagination at work, it is the source for our creativity.  It is what leads us to put words to paper (or computer screens now).  To craft stories of varying quality.  Quiet it and we die just a bit, let it continue to roar and we can become overwhelmed.

I think this.  Writers, like other artists, live in a world that is a bit different than those who don’t try to create.  We slip in and out of that world and it can be a difficult balance to maintain.  Maybe we live a little bit more on the edge between sanity and insanity, acceptance and depression as a result.  Or maybe I’m just thinking far too much about this.  🙂

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12 responses to “Writers, Alcohol, and Early Death

  1. olivia July 28, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    Many actors/performers seem to battle the same thing– I almost wonder if it’s a desperation for public approval, fame, fortune? Or the realization that even those things don’t create automatic happiness? Pain also sparks creativity, so perhaps people experiencing some sort of pain are more likely to end up tortured artists. I don’t know the answer, but fortunately it’s not a universal artistic experience 😉

    • kingmidget July 28, 2013 at 2:53 pm

      Interesting thing happened last night during the closing dinner of the workshop. The author who had led our morning workshop for the past three days was the keynote speaker. Just before he was due to start his speech, which was actually pretty damn good, he saw me with a beer in my hand. “Where are the beers?” I told him where. He came back a few minutes later. “Where were they, I couldn’t find the cooler.” I went and got him one. As he took the bottle from my hand, he mumbled something along the lines of “Thanks, I need a prop.” When he went to the microphone to talk, he had the beer and placed it on the table in front of him. I’m not sure I saw him drink very much of the beer before, during or after his speech. Makes me wonder if drinking is part of the “role” we’re supposed to play if we are writers or artists.
      I agree with the idea that pain can spark creativity and that may be a part of the equation.

  2. tjtherien July 28, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    this is something I’ve thought about quite a bit, I’ve wondered how much is giving in to the myth of being a writer (Artist) and how much of it has to do with what happens from too much time spent locked up in one’s own head… it is a bad neighbourhood the human mind…we might not realize that until we’ve moved in and begun to unpack our bags…

    • kingmidget July 28, 2013 at 4:06 pm

      Good idea to always leave one bag unpacked maybe?

      • tjtherien July 28, 2013 at 4:14 pm

        some places we might not want to go without serious back up… so it might be a good idea to leave a bag or two unpacked….I think there is a reason why we don’t use our mind to it’s full potential. in fact we tap a very small percentage… the creative process itself could be to blame

  3. butimbeautiful July 28, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    I think you’re right about the world in which creative artists live. It’s a bit different – or maybe we just think it is. I’ve never been into alcohol at all, I value my brain too much to tip crap into it though. Alcohol can make you feel normal – so I’ve observed from people I know – when you’re not. So maybe that’s why writers like it.

    • kingmidget July 28, 2013 at 4:01 pm

      I think there’s a weird contradiction when it comes to alcohol. On the one hand, we believe it can help creativity, for some reason. On the other hand, many people drink to dull the pain. So, which is it, particularly if it is the pain we need to keep the creative engines running?
      In the article I linked to, there was an interesting line about Jack London, I think. He wouldn’t let himself have a drink until he had finished half of his daily requirement of 1,000 words. Eventually, though, he couldn’t even sit down without first having a drink. There’s something there that is just so fundamental and profound.

  4. sknicholls July 28, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    “Writers, like other artists, live in a world that is a bit different than those who don’t try to create. We slip in and out of that world and it can be a difficult balance to maintain.”

    Slipping in and out of the creative world can be just as trying on a personality or individual as a mental illness is, yet we must do it almost every day. My husband is in AA and has been sober 8 years (almost 9) and he is not anonymous. He was one of those “functional” alcoholics who had a high (bottom). He is an engineer and highly creative, and bipolar, but alcohol is what he used to self medicate. A program of spiritual recovery is what he needed to find that balance. As I writer, I am doing that same thing the alcoholic does. I don’t drink often enough to say that I drink, but I put my words onto my wounds. I have been going to the open speaker meetings of AA for almost 7 years and have learned so very much and grown spiritually so very much as a result of the education fellowship found there. Having worked in mental health, I thought, as a healthcare professional, I already had an understanding. Man, was I off base. I don’t know if I can write now in any state but sober. I really don’t want to try to find out. Peace ~ S.K. Nicholls

    • kingmidget July 28, 2013 at 5:01 pm

      Thanks for sharing your own experience. Truth is that this is something I’m struggling with. Not the going insane part. The other part.

      • sknicholls July 28, 2013 at 5:07 pm

        “Moderation is key.” I hate those words. You hear them all of the time. Those words are simple enough for the average person. Like with my cigarette smoking (I am on Chantix and not doing very well at kicking the habit…but I only smoke outside) if someone said moderation is key, I would kick them in the arse. There are some people, me included, that can’t moderate, and nicotine addiction is one of those addictions, because it is a physiological addiction, that can’t be moderated.

  5. Pingback: Just one more drink! – Alcoholism and writing | Mucho dale

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