Are all writers drunks? Or just the good ones?

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Are all writers drunks? Or just the good ones?

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nov. 12, 2015, 12:25pm

Inquiring minds want to know. Also, did your favorite author get better/worse after sobering/juicing up?

nov. 12, 2015, 1:39pm

Earlier this year I read Stephen King's On Writing where he spoke to his alcohol and drug addiction, which got so bad he cannot remember a thing about writing his novel Cujo, which he says is too bad because he likes that one. The Tommyknockers was the final product of his self-destructive period, The Dark Half being the beginning of his recovery. He had a great fear that he would lose his talent if he lost his addictions. But I've not read enough of his work to judge.

nov. 12, 2015, 3:13pm

He definitely did not lose his talent. Of course not all titles are of the same caliber, but he has written a good many excellent things since. I thought it was Tommyknockers he said he didn't remember writing at all, hm. In any case, his talent certainly did not need ...outside influence.

nov. 12, 2015, 4:02pm

Your posts certainly help to explain why Stephen King's writing pendulums from some of the best to some of the very worst books I have read. Taking up one of his books is always a gamble.

nov. 12, 2015, 5:13pm

I wholeheartedly disagree. While all of them are not omg amazing, I have enjoyed everything of his I've read, to a greater or lesser extent. Some number among my favorite reads, period, while others are simply entertaining thrillers. But I've not regretted the time spent on any of them.

nov. 16, 2015, 11:56am

I think King's books were better when he was drinking, but it might be an age thing as much as a booze thing. He wrote not too long ago that he used to have so many stories going off in his head that he was afraid that he was going crazy, but that things are calmer now. Gifts sometimes wan over time.

I looked up booze hound authors after I started this thread and was surprised to see some of the names. Raymond Chandler? News to me. O. Henry ditto.

nov. 16, 2015, 2:21pm

Not all of them are "drunks," a derogatory though sometimes accurate term, but an overwhelming number of writers are imbalanced in some way, esp. those who have been considered great.

To read novels and poems, and to read about the lives of authors, as I did for decades, is to engage in the study of the chaotic lives of strange birds: mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, promiscuity, infidelity, multiple marriages, mutiple divorces, breakdowns, hospital stays, nutty politics, and character flaws you could drive a truck through.

Life in the backwater, outside the mainstream of social and moral norms.


Writing is an odd way to spend one's time, sitting alone at a screen or piece of paper, inventing imaginary people and imaginary worlds. Like playing with dolls. One wizened Southern writer told us students many years ago when I heard him: "It's such a lonely job, surely you can find something better to do with your time."

This from a man who was and is sucessful and well-respected by the standards of his tribe.

I hope that the numbers have changed in recent decades. People who would have spent their time writing have gone into therapy and received the help they need. I intend my comments to be sympathetic, not condescending. There's something to be said for the neat trick of turning illness into literary cash and revered vocation, but I suspect many of these sad folks would have preferred normal jobs and happy lives.

Recently, re: the subject, Mariel Hemingway trying to dodge her genetic inheritance in Out Came the Sun. A brief, well-written memoir which is not what you might expect. Brave woman. I wish her the best.

nov. 16, 2015, 2:58pm

>6 SomeGuyInVirginia: There's good reason Chandler's characters always had a drink in their hand. ;)

Editat: nov. 17, 2015, 2:29pm

The southern U.S. seems especially prone to crapulous authors. Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Edgar Allan Poe, Truman Capote, William Styron, Carsol McCullers, Walker Percy.

And so this year's Percy festival topic:

“You see, I usually write at night,” said William Faulkner. “I always keep my whiskey within reach; so many ideas that I can’t remember in the morning pop into my head.” Alcohol -- especially bourbon -- has forever been a part of Southern culture, particularly Southern literary culture. Bourbon was the favored tipple of Faulkner and Percy. Considering the role of drinking in Southern fiction and culture, especially in an era of Recovery."

Alcohol's a depressant. It's only going to make you feel worse.

ETA: More stuff, in the words of Chuck Barris.

Editat: nov. 17, 2015, 3:52pm

nov. 18, 2015, 12:37am

Personal note: I remember the first time I read the works of a drunken author. Dylan Thomas. We'd been assigned to read him in a first-year Linguistics course, and I fell in love, so much so that I went to the campus bookstore and bought his collected works. I got home, high on finding my first-ever favourite poet, and my mother said to me, dismissively, "he was a drunk". I've never picked up that book since without remembering my mum's bitter comment.

One of my favourite writers, Gerald Durrell, he was a drunk, and a womanizer to boot.

nov. 18, 2015, 8:38am

>11 ahef1963:, so that's why he hung out with the animals. Ha. Ha. Ha.

nov. 18, 2015, 10:39am

There are enough geniuses and psychos in this town that I regularly get to observe them in their natural setting, and they think different. Total recall is a quirky gift, and psychotic hallucinations are, well, I doubt they're a gift but they're something extraordinary. I imagine that writers think different. They have messy lives, they drink and screw too much, or are bad with money. Most of the people I know who drink and screw too much and are bad with money are in therapy and some sort of recovery program. Or planning on getting in. Or are avoiding them and getting by somehow. But none of them are writers.

I seriously doubt that drinking will make someone a writer, just like Kennith Halliwell found that have a bad childhood and being gay didn't make him a writer. I imagine that writers are disciplined. That whatever is going on in their lives, that enhances or inhibits their gifts, they still make time to write for as long as they are able.

I'll drink to that.

nov. 18, 2015, 12:53pm

Sure, it's indisputable that many writers have messy lives, and alcohol often figures in the situation.

But there are others (rare exceptions? or just different?) who don't fit that image.

There's the famous Flaubert line about being regular and orderly in everyday life so that you can be violent and original in your work. Flannery O'Connor? Wallace Stevens? Or there's this recent account by George Saunders about Tobias Wolff, depicting him as a model family man:

nov. 18, 2015, 4:05pm

For Faulkner, stream of consciousness must have been easier to write when drinking. All those long, run-on sentences. No need for punctuation. Innovative or lazy?

The later Joyce, too, culminating in Finnegans Wake, strikes me as a picture of a mind falling to pieces. Joyce's daughter was diagnosed schizophrenic.

Ezra Pound's Vorticism, fragmentation, discontinuity, cut and paste. Eliot shared that style. Innovation or symptom or both? In the recent volumes of T.S. Eliot's letters, I was surprised at how many breakdowns he had. Previously I thought the problems were mainly with his bipolar wife. What a home life those two had.

Philip K. Dick never got to see so many movies made out of his work. Good movies, strange author. If you've read his work, you shouldn't be surprised by his numerous problems and their nature -- alcoholism, paranoia, hallucination, delusion, grandiosity.

And yet he made a living off it. Neat trick.

nov. 18, 2015, 4:12pm

I recall a story about Andy Warhol being ridiculed by his avant-garde friends for wearing a suit to work every day.

What's so special about art, Warhol replied, about being an artist? This is my work. I go to work every day like other men. Being an artist is my job.

Remember that the next time you hear someone complain about "the suits" who allegedly cause all the trouble.

Here's a picture of Warhol.

nov. 18, 2015, 5:33pm

>16 barney67:

I can't picture Tom Wolfe writing his American sagas dressed in anything but a creamy linen suit, a pastel shirt, and a stunning tie, every white hair in place and a color in his breast pocket. Nor can I imagine him doing so without a glass of something delightfully alcoholic at hand. This after having seen him in person -- he was sartorially splendid; however he appeared as sober as Job.

nov. 19, 2015, 12:21am

Wolfe is a Southerner, of course.

nov. 19, 2015, 1:06pm

Of couse. Known for being able to hold their liquor. Or to depend on it, according to your views. Think of Tennessee Williams, descended from a line of tipplers and who liked "a little drugs" with his drink and who wrote magnificently about people just like him.

des. 3, 2015, 3:21pm

My two favorite authors are Joseph Conrad and Philip Roth. Neither are/were drunks.

des. 3, 2015, 4:32pm

Conrad and Roth. Sure, they're OK but it's pretty obvious their work was strained from long bouts of not drinking.

des. 3, 2015, 10:25pm

There are writers who I think would have benefited from being a bit tipsy and uninhibited if they'd taken a little alcoholic refreshment while scribbling and typing.

des. 4, 2015, 1:20pm

I'm reading William Faulkner and thought, I wonder? Found this on Wikipedia: "The quality and quantity of Faulkner's literary output were achieved despite a lifelong drinking problem. He rarely drank while writing, preferring instead to binge after a project's completion." So, does that count or not?

des. 4, 2015, 3:50pm

Judging by his prose, don't you think Faulkner was fairly uninhibited w/o the benefit of the Gift of the Gods? As far as being good because he drank and was a drunk, we'll never know since ipso facto he was a binge drinker, an intermittent alcoholic and it's impossible to know him as a constantly sober writer.

Case could be made that he probably wasn't staggering when writing, but he might have been legally drunk, a definition that depends a great deal on body weight, metabolism, age, and state of the liver.

des. 5, 2015, 2:58pm

I'm not sure where Wikipedia got that statement about Faulkner. You need to be careful about Wikipedia.

I studied English in college and graduate school. Read many of Faulkner's novels and the excellent biography by Joseph Blotner. I admire much of his work. I recall Faulkner as a heavy drinker. To think that he didn't drink while he wrote would be unusual.

I recall reading a book that mentioned when the young Walker Percy and his best friend, Shelby Foote, visited the Faulkner estate. Percy was too shy to go in, so he stayed in the car. Foote and Faulkner played tennis, but Faulkner got so drunk -- while playing -- that the tennis match turned into a laughable travesty.

des. 5, 2015, 6:45pm

>25 barney67:

A story by one heavy drinker about another. My money is on them both being tennis-unable drunk at the time.