“Write drunk, edit sober” was the first hint I had that the writing life might be prone to certain vices. It’s a piece of advice attributed to Ernest Hemingway, the well known alcoholic and womanizer who would take his life in 1962. I’ve seen drunk writing. Even after sober editing, it’s not usually great. Stephen King, in his autobiography/guidebook, On Writing, says he doesn’t remember writing Cujo, and talks about how Jack Torrance, the alcoholic “protagonist” of The Shining, is more or less a mirror image of the writer himself.
Throughout high school and college, I have read and come to love more and more authors who dealt with addictions of various kinds: Hunter S. Thompson, Jack Kerouac, William Faulkner, Charles Bukowski, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, David Foster Wallace, and Evelyn Waugh are just some of the writers that I can think of who struggled with alcohol, drugs, or a violent mixture of both. Since I realized I wanted to be a writer circa Sophomore year of high school, I have always had a certain fear that I too would succumb to one or multiple addictions, and end my life in the way that so many of the above authors did.
There’s something about the writing life that is prone to both introspective existentialism and a need to battle that using whatever means necessary. Anxiety and depression are staples of the creative writing major in college, and post-graduation, that doesn’t seem to change. The world is strange, awful, and scary, and writers seem to see that in a different light than many people.
Maybe I’m wrong here. Maybe everyone feels the same way that authors do, struggles with success in similar ways, worries about the future, and wants to make their mark on the world, leaving a legacy. I don’t know. I do know that myself and many of my friends struggle with these ideas, and I worry that we will try and fill these problematic spaces in our lives with substances, illicit or not.
I’ve seen good friends struggle with addiction already, writers and not. It’s a scary thing, as there’s no definition of alcoholism. It’s a spectrum. How much is too much is a question that many writers probably ask themselves in the midst of a bender, and I hope it never comes to that for me or any of my friends.
I don’t really have a closing argument or sudden revelation to close this piece. Instead, I want to end with an exhortation to writers: find solace elsewhere. Friends, family, books, movies, the writing process itself, a higher power, anything. Try not to see alcoholism or reliance on substances in a romantic light, and search for meaning, don’t just block out the want to search.
A blog by contributing writer J. Clark Hubbard