Writer’s Lot

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Do you ever just get the urge to start cursing and/or ranting and raving, while waving around a drink in one hand and a smoke in the other? I do. The trouble is, I act on it. Potential hazards of writer’s lot may include but are not limited to substance abuse and misanthropic exchanges. 

All writers fear the dreaded writer’s block–whether we handle it proactively or shake in a corner, feeling as though we’ve lost purpose in life because inspiration has seemingly abandoned us (I fall into the latter camp). Regardless of how we handle it, we still fear it. While this is a serious condition for writers, this post will be about another condition I have decided to call ‘writer’s lot’. Perhaps it is a kind of defense mechanism against writer’s block. Or perhaps I am making too many generalizations here. Hey, it’s an occupational hazard of being human.

For now, I’m distilling writer’s lot down to the use and/or abuse of alcohol, but I do not seek to demean the severity of alcoholism. I talk a lot about addiction on this blog–and will continue to do so–as I have my own issues with it (in fact, on my 6th 1st day of ‘quitting’ smoking, the itchy craving is almost paralyzing right now). I don’t want to blame my issues with addiction on being a writer, or my late father, who was a functioning alcoholic. I don’t do it because I’m unhappy either.

I do it to let go, to free my creativity and inhibitions, to get lost in a place that’s sometimes difficult for me to access without that kind of stimulant. Not that I encourage alcohol abuse, but used in moderation, it has its uses. As good ol’ Hemingway said:

write drunk

In an excellent article by Blake Morrison, “Why Do Writers Drink?” , John Cheever is quoted as saying “The excitement of alcohol and the excitement of fantasy are very similar.” According to the article, poems were recited in ancient Greece during symposiums and soirees that involved heavy imbibing and perhaps an occasional visit from Bacchus himself—depending on how smashed you were. And I wouldn’t doubt it. But why?

Morrison outlines some well-known writers who seem to have fallen into the torrid clutches of writer’s lot: Edgar Allen Poe, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Ernest Hemingway, Anne Sexton, Patricia Highsmith, Jack Kerouac, John Berryman, and Charles Bukowski…just to name a few.

I think this condition draws people in because we naturally seek things which alter our normal state of being–caffeine, euphoria from exercise, sex, and sometimes mind-altering substances. Drinking affects our mind-state. Many who leisurely drink (or addictively drink) do it for this very reason. I do it for this reason. But how does it affect the mind-state in a way that Hemingway and other prolific writers saw as beneficial?

My assumption is that when you drink, just like when you fantasize, your logic and reasoning can easily be placed on the back burner, freeing your creative mind or just your illogical/emotional self to run rampant on the pages. This is perhaps the little piece inside ourselves that Bukowski would sleep with night after night but never cried about—only acknowledged that little blue bird of feeling while thrusting it out of sight in the light of day.

Morrison mentions that Olivia Laing, who wrote The Trip to Echo Springs: Why Writers Drink, endeavored on her journey to explore the disease to which the people she knew and loved fell victim. Laing does not approach the topic of authorship and drinking romantically at all. And that’s okay. It all comes down to perspective. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist though–writer’s lot. To this, Stephen King would say (and did) “creative people probably do run a greater risk of alcoholism and addiction than those in some other jobs, but so what? We all look pretty much the same when we’re puking in the gutter.” [92, On Writing]

I don’t hold a grudge against my father, nor do I think less of the people that partake in this; I choose to see it as the loosening and lubricating of the mind-state, though not to be depended upon.  Indulging in a bit of writer’s lot sometimes helps me attain this goal:

Sometimes it takes a couple to fill this role--depending on the things being said...

Sometimes it takes a couple to fill this role–depending on what’s being said…

Didn’t someone once say in vino veritas?

I am curious to know what others think about this. Is my perspective on this riddled with undue romanticism? Or do you agree? How would you characterize your own strain of writer’s lot?

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22 Responses to Writer’s Lot

  1. Good post. I am going to give this some thought.

  2. The Administrator says:

    It’s commonly said that alcohol causes you to temporarily lose your inhibitions. It’s also been said that alcohol magnifies either your inner self and/or whatever your mood is at the time. If we accept these statements as true, then I think it’s apparent that writing while drinking can become very appealing (and how Hemingway’s advice becomes all the more salient).

    I think one of the biggest causes of “writer’s block” is fear. For me, it’s more often than not the the fear of putting words down that aren’t exactly as I want them. I’ve been trying to train myself to drown out that fear, but that’s been a difficult road for me to walk. I can see why a “quick fix” in alcohol would be something writers sharing similar struggles might embrace. Theoretically, it could change the word flow from a leaky faucet to a burst water main.

    I say “theoretically” because I haven’t really written drunk. I’ll write with a beer or two (like now), but I’m not sure it has quite the effect I’m describing. But maybe we should expand “writers lot” to include other means of “getting in the zone” that don’t have the same potential for self-destruction? Some writers need to listen to music or be in a certain environment to tune the muse. In a way, isn’t that embracing a writer’s lot of a different shade?

    Great food for thought, and I hope to see more chime in to discuss this. By the way, love the term “writer’s lot.” Very catchy.

    • A. B. Davis says:

      Thank you for reading and for your thoughtful comment. Your examination of writer’s block as fear and what that fear represents is spot on for me too.

      I do see what you mean with drinking being perceived as a quick fix for that. However, I did mean to convey I do it not only to staunch that fear, but to embrace, as you say, the current mood I’m in (which I hope is an inspired one lol). Of course, there are times when writer’s lot and these self-destructive urges creep up on you and take over. But I suppose with all the focus on intoxication in the post , I didn’t leave much room for those other means of “getting in the zone”—like music! I think I glazed over them a bit too flippantly. I’m realizing I may have been in a bit of a negative mood, no matter how not-depressing I tried to write that post. lol

      But I was hoping to open the discussion to more positive means while seeing how others felt about the “booze, cigs, and coffee” aspect of it, as @UnhingedinTime, so eloquently stated. So thank you for doing just that…and for the love on my title 🙂

      • The Administrator says:

        To examine the term “writer’s lot” a little further, I think it carries a negative connotation. When I hear or read the oft used phrase, “it’s a [profession/type of person]’s lot in life,” it’s usually in reference to something unfortunate. So even though positive things like music, nature and the like can get you in the zone, I don’t think any of those really qualify as writer’s lot material. It really almost has to be a vice, doesn’t it?

        But then, the boost you (or, at least, I) get from music, etc., is more like an added focus. A particularly soaring, emotional piece might make for an added bit of inspiration or depth, but that’s not easily sustained. Furthermore, while I enjoy listening to music while writing from time to time, it’s not a mandatory part of my writing life.

        It doesn’t quite work that way with writer’s lot.

        Writer’s lot seems like it must be done all or most of the time. “It’s a writer’s lot in life to drink while composing prose.” It suggests dependency, and the added specter of addiction (along with the ghost of Poe) brings a sense of self-destruction combined with artistic revelation. A sublime combination.

        But for me, I think my writer’s lot is much simpler (though just as addictive): coffee. And honestly, even if writing were no concern of mine, I’d probably still need the coffee. I freely admit that I’ve grown dependent upon it. But man, a good cup [or two, or three] of coffee is ever-so-good.

        My pleasure spreading the word on this piece. I really enjoyed reading it, and I value the discussion.

      • A. B. Davis says:

        Negative connotation—I think you’re absolutely right. That’s probably why the post didn’t jive so well with me, probably didn’t feel quite honest because I was trying to put something of a positive spin on aspects of it. But a vice it is indeed—and vices are almost always mandatory, aren’t they. And that’s probably why I didn’t think of or mention music too, because music isn’t really harmful.

        Your paragraph on the dependency and the “added specter of addiction” is beautiful. I must agree with the coffee addiction; it would appear I am worse off than you though, as I have my other addictions to contend with as well 😉 (Four days without smoking though! Wooo!).

        Regarding discussion, I am so grateful for the comments this post has garnered. I had felt so uncertain about it, and I still cannot put my finger on why. But the discussion has been valuable, and I’m understanding a little more about myself as a result. So thank you for that.

  3. That’s one of my favourite Hemingway quotes about writing but I always like to marry it with another of his statements: “The first draft of anything is shit.”
    I think it’s easy to romanticize alcohol because it’s so culturally acceptable, and your picture of a bottle of Jack Daniels is very apt because I have been drinking some tonight, but I’m not sure whether it necessarily makes writing better. I think that, at best, the kind of personality that is drawn to writing in a particular kind of way, is also drawn to the many sensory distortions that narcotics can bring and alcohol is, in our society, the most culturally acceptable one. This is how I justify my own addiction…

    • A. B. Davis says:

      Thank you stopping by over in my little corner of the universe to comment. 🙂

      Too true about the Hemingway quote. A hard lesson to learn for a burgeoning author; I’m still coming to terms with it. I gotta say, the Dr. Daniels Feel Good Juice was working its magic; how Walt Whitman of us to distantly connect over such a thing. Or I suppose it was more Hemingway, wasn’t it.

      Sensory distortions. Yes. Sometimes, that’s what I seek. Justifications are a double-edged sword, aren’t they?

      I sincerely hope alcohol doesn’t make writing better, because that would mean I would have to become an alcoholic to succeed at this art. And I don’t want to have to DEPEND on it, I just want to enjoy it. That’s all I meant. Take old Daniels out for a little dance and a dip and then let him walk back home, because I’ve hit my stride. lol

  4. Well, to end tonight with a quote from Raymond Chandler, for what it’s worth: “Alcohol is like love. The first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine. After that you take the girl’s clothes off.”
    To be honest I’m not really sure what it means, but there you have it. 🙂

    • A. B. Davis says:

      How perfect. I think you’re supposed to be unsure of the exact meaning of that quote lol. Whatever Chandler is getting at, he sounds like an expert, and I wish I was still in stages one and two. Sigh.

  5. The Administrator says:

    Props to The Sleepcoat League for a couple of excellent quotations.

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  8. I am a complete light weight, but I love to have a stiff drink sometimes when I write. It seems to shut up my inner critic enough to let me write without hearing the negativity.

    • A. B. Davis says:

      I am a lightweight as well (it makes for expedient inebriation). And I think there really is something to alcohol helping those of us that can’t just let loose and write unflinchingly to do so. Where we would normally stop to reconsider whether we edit that semi-colon (I use them way too often) or strike this line, we push through it, caught up in the exuberant breath of genius inspiration (partially due to the alcohol). 🙂 I think the way you said it is exactly what I was trying to say with this: drink so that your mind can just shut up while you write. Thanks for reading, Crystal.

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  10. D.G.Kaye says:

    Now here’s an interesting spin on the vice’s a writer may use to enhance, or supplement their writing. No doubt many of us have vice’s in life. Who are we to judge what comforts or aids in creative imagination? I’m not much of a drinker, so I can’t speak with authority, but I do know that an occasional glass of wine relaxes the mind (and sometimes the tongue). It sometimes allows creative thoughts to come to the forefront, I’d have to agree, although I don’t usually practice this. But that said, I’d compare it to ‘wee in the midnight hours of writing’, those moments where we can’t sleep or wake temporarily and discover some eureka moments of thought in our half-waken states, where we jot them down because the odds are they won’t be remembered when we wake. We wake in the morning and reread those writings we jotted down, and that is when I find some of my best writing, while questioning myself, “Did I write that?” 🙂

  11. TooManyJens says:

    For me, it’s that I live in a constant state of mild anxiety. A drink eases the tension enough that I can breathe freely, and it just feels like there’s less of a barrier to everything.

    I don’t do it very often, for various reasons, but I do find it helpful.

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