Why Writers Drink

“I usually write at night. I always keep my whiskey within reach.”

— Faulkner

*slides glass of whiskey over*

There. That one’s on the house.

Fact: writers drink.

Every writer drinks. Total boozemonkeys to the last. Sure, you say, “But I don’t drink,” except, you probably do. You go to sleep, fugue out, and your writer hindbrain takes over — it’s like flinging open the cage door and letting out an enraged, deranged orangutan. Just because you don’t consciously drink doesn’t mean your crazy orangutan soul isn’t up at 3AM, dousing himself in the mini-bottle of tequila you unknowingly hid in the Holy Bible. So, don’t tell me the story that you don’t drink. Next you’ll try to tell me you have a mannequin for sale that only comes alive at night, when I’m alone with her in a department store.

Man, I’d so bang that mannequin.

What were we talking about?

Right. Writers. Drinky-drinky. You drink. You don’t drink, then you might not be a real writer. Being a real writer isn’t about how much you write in a day or how many books you’ve published. It’s about how big your liver is. Your liver doesn’t look like a lumpy kickball, then you and me, we’re not on the same page.

I get two comments frequently here about this site. One, “You sure do use a lot of profanity.” Well, I’m sorry. Profanity is fun. Profanity is a circus of language where the clowns are all insane and the elephant just stepped on a trapeze artist and something somewhere is on fire. Two, “You sure do talk about drinking.” Well, I’m sorry about that, too. We writers drink, and we like to talk about drinking, and we like to talk about drinking while drinking. It’s just our thing. Deal with it. And drink this while you’re at it.

You want to know why? You want some deeper instruction on the booze-sponge that is the penmonkey?


Here goes.

Wistful Poetic Romance

Hemingway’s daiquiri. Faulkner’s mint julep. Stephenie Meyer’s “no-no juice.”

Okay, I’m not really sure about that last one. Point is, writing and drinking have long been paired together, arms locked in a poetic tangle — we envision the writer by his typewriter, a glass of Scotch in one hand, an elephant gun in the other. The whisky lights a peat fire in his belly, sends smoke signals of bright and bitter brine to his head, fills the chambers of his mind with the fermented bullets of inspiration.

It’s absinthe and poetry, brandy and prose, a lovable drunkenness leading to the potency of fiction.

Of course, the reality hits home when it’s 10:30 in the morning and we’re sauced on boxed wine, idly wondering when we got vomit in our own hair (it’s been long enough that it crusted over, a crispy bile-caked cradle-cap). Later we’ll look back at the work we wrote during that time (“Is fluvasham a word? Is this a grocery list? Funions? Really?”) and recognize that the romance and inspiration we so dearly sought is as empty as the wine box we’re presently using as a foot-rest.

Because Other Writers Do It

You know how like, there’s a state-bird? “It’s Iowa! Our state-bird is the one-eyed caviling corn grackle!” Well, if the state of Writerdom had a state-bird, it would be the whiskey-sodden rum-warbler.

Try this experiment: go to a genre convention or writer’s conference, wait till… well, it’d be optimistic to say 5pm, but let’s go with that, and then ask around to try to suss out where the writers are. Seriously, don’t even bother. Because I know where they are. They’re like elephants and tigers and flamingos who have found the one fucking watering hole in 1000 miles of Kalahari hell. Hint: They’re at the bar, dipshit. Drinking. They might not have money for food, but by a good goddamn they certainly have money to wet their writerly whistles. Where did you think you would find them? The library? The health food store? Okay, sure, you might find them at a pet store holding turtle races or playing mind games with ferrets, but that’s just because they spent all their allotted booze money.

You want to hang out with writers, you go where writers drink. And if you don’t drink with ’em, they will sense that you’re different. And like rats who smell an imposter, they will nibble you to bloody ribbons.

Because Holy Fucking Shit, The First Draft, That’s Why

That first draft can be a beast. I’m constantly in search of a good metaphor for what writing a first draft of anything long-form is like, but for now, let’s just go with “drowning in a sea of bees.”

So we get to feeling like, dang, I could really use a little something to take the edge off, you know? Something to dampen the misery of endless stings. We might try, I dunno, stretching, or a cup of tea, or a few bites of chocolate. And that’ll tide us over to the 20% mark, but somewhere along the way we need a life preserver to keep us afloat. We need a goddamn drink. (Well, frankly, we probably need an insidious mix of black tar heroin, methamphetamines, and ayahuasca — we can vacuum the roof, write a bestseller, space out with machine elves, then battle the gods of Xibalba over a game of severed-head-basketball. Thankfully, those things are difficult to procure. Unless you know an Inca.)

One gin and tonic might keep us afloat. Two gin and tonics eases the coming of the first draft, a kind of chemo-spiritual pelvic widener to help birth this story-baby. Seven gin and tonics and we end up soiling ourselves and drawing pictures of boobs on our computer monitors in permanent marker. Or we end up writing The Da Vinci Code. To-MAY-toe, to-MAH-toe.

Still, you drink, you feel 100 feet tall and bulletproof. Stephen King ain’t got nothing on you. I mean, except the fact he’s lucid and doesn’t suffer blackouts that require him to wear a diaper.

Celebrate Good Times, Come On

“I just finished the book! Time for some wine.”

“I just sold a story! Time for some wine.”

“I just got through a particularly rough chapter. Time for some wine!”

“I just got halfway through a sentence. Wine wine wine wine wine.” *drunken pirouettes*

Eventually we end up in a piano crate under an overpass with a three-legged incontinent terrier named “Steve,” and we tell passersby how we “just finished that novel,” and they’re all like, “Sure, whatever, homeless-person-who-smells-like-Maneshewitz-wine-run-through-the-urinary-tract-of-a-diabetic-raccoon.” And we wave our manuscript at them. And by manuscript, I mean “genitals.”

Aww, Sad-Face Need Boozytime

The opposite end of the spectrum arrives. Hey, rejection. Hey, book’s not selling. Hey, a bad review. Time to drown your sorrows in booze the way one might drown squirrels in a rusty washtub! Die, sorrows! Die!

It seems like a good idea until you remember the idea that alcohol can serve as a depressant. Then you end up on the lawn with your laptop, yelling at some rejection letter or negative review. “You don’t know me. You don’t know shit about shit about — urp — shit, buster. I wrote my fugging heart out of my butt for you and this is what I get? I’mma genie! Genial. Genius. That’s it. You shut up. Quit lookin’ at me, possum.”

The Bottle Muse And Her Lugubrious Liquor-Fed Lubrications

We get stoppered up, our word-fluids corked up and bricked off like the poor fucker in Cask of Amontillado and we suffer that most mythical of conditions, the bloated beast known as “Writer’s Block.” And so, to answer one myth we turn to another myth by seeking our Muse, and in seeking our Muse we figure, hey, screw it, why not throw a third axis of mythic deliciousness in for good measure? Thus we seek to conjure the Muse in the vapor of our own boozy ruminations, guzzling some manner of alcoholic spirit to stir the metaphorical (and thus entirely unreal) spirits that purportedly guide our writing lives and have power over our own mental blocks.

It rarely works as intended. Oh, it provides lubrication, all right. We end up inspired. We find ourselves inspired to eat a box of microwave taquitos and drunk-dial a passel of exes before kneeling down and praying before the Porcelain Temple of the Technicolor Hymn. It’s just, y’know, the one thing it didn’t help with was putting words on paper. But at least we get a good story out of it.

Because Holy Fucking Shit, The Final Draft, That’s Why

You hit a point where it’s like, I have these 80 billion copy-edits, I have to cut limbs off this baby before anybody will adopt it, and I have to do it all on deadline. Daddy needs some vodka.

The story goes that Hemingway said to write drink, but edit sober, but man does that feel counter-intuitive, right? Editing is like surgery. And you wouldn’t go into surgery without anesthetic, would you?

Once again, however, there exists that cruel line. A drink or two might make the process more palatable, but a baker’s dozen and, whoo boy. Before you know it you’re slurring made-up racial slurs at your own manuscript, and in a sudden sweeping rage you highlight 20,000 words right in the middle and — *click!* — delete it, and then just to be sure it’s dead, you salt the earth by erasing all your backup copies and shattering your external hard drive with a croquet mallet.

It’s The Only Way The Demons Will Stop Jabbering

I’ll just leave that one there without comment. Do with it as you will.


Uhhh. I mean, what? Nothing.

Sauce Up, Writer Folk

So, what do you drink, writer-types? What’s your favorite drink? Even better — favorite drinking story?

And yes, for the record, awooga, awooga, disclaimers: I am not an alcoholic, you should not be an alcoholic, and writing is not made better or more magical by drinking. This is just a funny post (with maybe a hint of truth to it) about how writers are so frequently drinkers. So put down that oak cask with the squiggly drinking straw shoved in its bunghole. And get back to work.

“Alcohol is like love,” he said. “The first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine. After that you take the girl’s clothes off.”

— Raymond Chandler

120 responses to “Why Writers Drink”

  1. I rather enjoyed the observation of writers’ regular intoxication. chuck-Chuck, I find you quite ironic. You criticize other writers for being concerned with their image rather than the writing, yet you are just as concerned with stroking your own ego by criticizing another writer’s work. Please stop bitching. Come join us for a beer, whiskey or tequila… I thought I’d use that moment to slip in my drinks of choice.

    Writing is an expression. If writing is what you do, then are you not a writer? If you ask a chef in a restaurant what he does, does he pull you aside and whisper “I’m the chef, but don’t tell anyone. I don’t want them to think I’m more concerned with the image of being the chef than making food”

    Whatever you do in life, you should be proud of doing it. The world takes you at your own estimate. So instead of coming into another man’s kitchen to complain about the food, rather go to another restaurant or make your own food at home.

  2. You have obviously picked a topic which is very consistent, but why do you have a patronizing attitude to writers’ you will never be as talented as? Just curious, but good luck with the blog thing!

  3. Excellent stuff, Chuck, and thanks. Profound, funny, sad, true. As a non-fictioner, I applaud all you grafters out there in the fiction zone. I tried a couple of creative things and it was sheer hell and drinking in the afternoon, which reminds me of Kris Kristofferson who never wrote a decent thing when he got sober. Song lyrics are probably the best genre for an imbiber. Not many words but they’ve got to be good ones.

  4. My alcohol consumption increased when I moved in with a writer. And I’m a banker, so you know I wasn’t a teetotaler before.

    Then I started occasionally editing fiction. (I’d only ever edited non fiction before…..)

    slippery slope, my friend.

  5. I’m so glad I’m not alone. If only I didn’t have to face those moments in the morning when I turn the computer to read what I wrote the night before, especially if it was on a forum somewhere.

  6. Brilliant post. I have to agree, I always feel a little more authorly after a few cheeky beers 😀
    I’m using this post to stimulate an idea for my own. Expect linkage! 😀

  7. Ha ha, I am a journalist and author from Kenya working on my sixth novel but for which I got quite a wad in advance ( talking five figures in $$$) and so, for the first time feeling the ‘first draft’ pressure, coz Publisher has a word limit I gotta submit every month. So like now it’s five in the morning and I’ll have a voda-cola ( you, Sire, can figure) for breakfast as I attack me manuscript … and so on till jioni ( Swahili for ‘evening.’). As a ‘help’ yell as one breaks the surface of that ‘sea of a thousand bees;’ as you so brilliantly put it, sire.

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