Musings

By | March 15, 2008 | 2 Comments

I’m sitting here working on Avery Cates #3, with a numb butt and a sleeping cat on the couch next to me, and my mind is wandering. A wandering mind writes no books, which is bad, as I believe my editor at Orbit will break my legs if I’m late with this manuscript.

I’m also enjoying a nice glass of Scotch as I write, which is one of the wonders of the modern age, that I can procure and drink such fine whisky any time I like (Glenrothes Select Reserve in case anyone’s interested). In the media writers are often portrayed as borderline (or even full-blown) high-functioning alcoholics, with the open bottle next to their desk. Indeed, a lot of great writers did hit the sauce pretty hard. Every few weeks or months I end up having a drink at The White Horse Tavern in Manhattan, which is where, of course, Dylan Thomas met his wet end. But I’ve always been suspicious of the old saw about inebriated writers – I don’t get much writing done when drunk. One nice drink after dinner, no problem. Even two sometimes causes no harm and I get a lot done while sipping the good stuff. But three sheets to the wind? Even if I did try to write, it would end up a sloppy batch of incoherency.

Those of you just about to say and what would the difference from your sober writing be can just stuff it. I’ve heard them all.

So that’s an interesting question I don’t think I’ve ever seen treated in an author blog or literary web site. How much does booze help or hinder the process? I mean, not all writers drink, of course, and even those who do like to tip a glass have varying degrees of tolerance and appreciation, ranging from the folks who’ll have a single glass of sherry on New Year’s Eve to those like me who have to measure their whisky intake in units similar to crude oil (i.e., the barrel). But it’s certainly part of the writing mythos that we’re all unapologetic boozers. Yet I’ve never seen a serious attempt to quantify the affect booze has on writing. As usual, Your Humble Author here is more than willing to sacrifice his time and, more importantly, his dignity, on the question. So here’s my personal table of booze intake versus literary output:

Number of Whiskies Literary Output
1 Mellow, contemplative mood resulting in intricate plot ideas and soulful dialogue.
2 I begin to think what I’m writing might be the best stuff I’ve ever done, though I remain cautious.
3 I have written four words in the last half hour, but they are fucking golden
4 Man, this commercial for life insurance is the saddest thing I have ever seen. I am weeping openly and don’t care who knows it. I’m going to adapt it for a scene in my science fiction novel about murderous home appliances taking over the earth. I think I may be a genius.
5 I suddenly realize I have fallen asleep and drooled all over my pages, smearing the words beyond comprehension. That, and I need to use the bathroom. Immediately if not sooner. I don’t think I will write any more tonight.

So there you have it, a scientific examination of the effect of liquor on my writing. I hope the world benefits from my fearless reporting. What about you? The world needs more data points so the young writers of the world can learn from their elders and make good decisions about whether to drink and write.

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2 Comments

  • Diamat says:

    Guy Debord, author of the cornerstone of the Situationist movement, ‘The Society of the Spectacle’ wrote (shortly before he shot himself) ‘I have written less than most philosophers write, but then I have drunk more than most philosophers drink’.

    I like that maxim. Especially as we have just returned from a six-distillery tour of Kentucky with three bottles of rare and strange small batch and single barrel bourbon. I may never write again. The world sighs in relief.

  • jsomers says:

    D,

    Some have said the most beautiful phrase in English is “cellar door” but naturally we know better: it is “single barrel bourbon”. Though I once had some single barrel from Jack Daniels that set my hair on fire, which was embarrassing.

    J

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