Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What authors drink

Mmmm, coffee.



Woven in and around all the super-serious literary questions that must be addressed before or while a would-be JK Rowling pounds out what he or she hopes is the next Harry Potter are some other queries.  Many of these aren't so super-serious, but are important in their own crappy little mundane way. 

For example: What do authors drink?

I kinda doubt there's ever been a true study done based on that question, but have you ever sat there reading and wondered what the guy who wrote the story was drinking at the time?  We know, from the appropriate passage in Stephen King on Writing, that that author was a raging alcoholic in his early years.  We know this because Mr. King spends a great amount of ink telling us how bad this was, how inebriation is a crutch for an author, and how we should do as he says and not as he did. 

Me, personally...I'm rather a fan of drinking alcoholic beverages.  I love a good beer, especially a good trippel or a solid ESB.  Give me one that was aged in a wine or a whiskey cask and, I admit, I swoon.  I've also, though, come home after a tough day of work to write a thousand words or two while sipping a nice whiskey: either Gentleman's Jack, when I'm in a bourbony mood, or Crown Royal black, when I'm not.  After all, my day job affords me a few luxuries, and I'll be damned if I'm gonna drink cheap whiskey.  Of course, I still have some Scotch packed up in a blue-labeled bottle in a blue satin-lined box.  My plan is to hold off the party with Johnny Walker till I get the "Yes, we'll publish your work" letter.  Might take a while, but luckily Scotch doesn't go bad very quickly.

I'm certainly not the first writer...hopefully to become an author...who tipped the jug a bit.  The Everyman's Bard, Mark Twain, himself once said, "Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over."  More famously, such greats as Edgar Allen Poe, Jack London, and William Faulkner drank to notable excesses.  Hemingway was famous for his love of whiskey...and, I guess, mojitos.  F. Scott Fitzgerald, who is included in nearly every listing of fabulously competent authors for some reason I simply can't fathom, loved his gin.  And Tennyson apparently loved, as do I, a good sip or three of port. 

Donald Goodwin, in his book on the topic of authors and alcoholism, said, "Writing involves fantasy; alcohol promotes fantasy. Writing requires self-confidence; alcohol bolsters confidence. Writing is lonely work; alcohol assuages loneliness. Writing demands intense concentration; alcohol relaxes."  OK, fine, so do all authors drink?  And if not, why the hell not?

Answer to first question: probably not.  Answer to second question: coffee can be just as effective.  I've found numerous references on the web to authors like Sarah Darer Littman and Lia Habel who can't write without that other wonderful (and, you must admit, drug-laden) liquid: coffee.  Yes, it contains caffeine, which isn't as mind-altering as alcohol, certainly, but no one can deny (or, I think, would want to) that it has an effect on the human body. 

I'm drinkin' a cup now. 

In any event, I can't speak for all the other authors who either do or do not pursue intoxicating or stimulating beverages.  It's just me, here, in my own little world.  But what I can tell you is my own experiences...and believe it or not, the alcohol really doesn't play a major part in them. 

Most of my creative work is actually done in the mornings, sitting with a cup of coffee, sometimes not writing a single word but instead letting my (stimulant-enhanced) brain churn through the many possible outcomes of a passage and decide what direction to take the story.  At night I get relaxed with an intoxicant and the writing flows a bit freer, but not to any great extent.  Sometimes, when I'm really tired, a beer lets my body forget about the tiredness for long enough for me to pound out a few words.  But I suspect that, were I to imbibe to the extreme that some authors were known for, it would actually inhibit the work.  I also suspect that, were I to quit drinking altogether, I'd still be able to write just fine. 

I suppose that the question of what authors drink isn't answerable in a concise way any more than the other issues of generalizations of a very diverse crowd.  I know what works for me, though.  And it 

Word Count:  14,111


  1. Great post Stephen, I enjoyed it to the very last words. For myself, I find my serious writing (lesson plans and instructions for others) is done in the morning with coffee, while my more creative writing is done with a glass of wine.... but I'd never really thought about that until I read your article. Thanks!

  2. I read a cool article recently, I think it might be relevant...
    When novelists sober up

  3. Thank you, Ruth! I decided to lighten it up a bit today, and I'm glad to read that it worked. I've been kind of bouncing all over with the topics, but I'm moving into a time frame when I can look at the lighter parts of life and writing.

    Stone, thank you for linking that article! I actually found it while researching for my blog post this morning. It's fascinating, but a bit controversial. I didn't want to get into the whole discussion about whether alcohol got authors to where they are...the article you linked makes a pretty strong assertion that King's writing was better, and his career propelled more forcefully, when he was under the spell of the demons. I'm going to take the fifth on that.