03 May

On Booze and Being a Writer

Lord Bryon said that “Man being reasonable must get drunk; The best of life is but intoxication”. The regulars at clubs as well as authors seem to concur, so maybe I lost some memo along the way. Literature is peppered with heavy drinkers. From the Fitzgeralds to the quieter, lonelier drinkers like Charles Bukowski, there has always been a need to intoxicate in order to create. Is it because, as Lord Bryon would have us think, that truth and the best is only attainable when drunk? Being uninhibited and less self-critical sounds wonderful to me. Having some grand confidence and believing my laptop will be the birthplace of the next South African novel is not too shabby either. Should I pick out my poison of choice now? Two glasses, please.

So, what is it about the writing community and booze. Having read a few articles on the subject I think I have found the truth. Then again I was perfectly sober when writing this so can I be trusted? Writers write for an invisible audience. We create without really knowing who for, and that makes us anxious. We become self-critical and in questioning our talent, we land up questioning a lot more. We curse the human condition and never believe that anything we write will be good enough for the ghosts. Alcohol is that quick fix, it makes us little arrogant creatures that can scale that wall, hook up with Timothy’s brother or prove that there is no human endeavor we cannot overcome. But, I am not convinced that ghosts are the answer.

Do writers drink because they are so conscious of the human condition that to be away from it, distanced by a foul breath and a hangover makes writing about it easier? Do we have to ‘forget’ in order to write and in that forgetting find ourselves? I recently took a course on writing for children and what took me by surprise the most was the notion that the modern writer is a lawyer, a doctor, a kindergarten teacher with time on her hands. The idea of what ‘a writer’ is is morphing and with it are their drinking habits. I am not suggesting that there are not drunken authors, just that what an author ‘ought’ to be like is changing. Writers can be people who write for 2h a night and then cook and finish their statistics work before bed. Too often do we paint this somewhat glamorized picture in our heads about what it means to be an ‘artist’. We imagine that we, like Hemingway, we must be tortured and drunk in order to write. That the apartment in Paris and the empty gin bottles are welcomed signs of greatness. That in being drunk we are ‘most free’ and what we write will be most fine. I have never written drunk, and there is nothing about the looseness that comes with the state that I enjoy. I am a writer of notebooks, of keeping the margins clean and my water bottle full. Call me prudish but I don’t think that drink is the answer; I think reading is. By reading, we engage with others troubles, their small hopes, and their voice. We can find ourselves in the pages of other books or write ourselves into ones. Drinking may make us more confident, more self-assured but does it make us more talented. I don’t think it does. Confidence should not be in the bottle for if we look hard enough we can find that our confidence is sprinkled across the literature that came before us.