I’ve often read and heard stories about famous alcoholic writers like Dylan Thomas, Hunter S. Thompson, Jack Kerouac, Dorothy Parker, Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Bukowski, and of course my beloved Hemingway. The more I enter the world of writing as an adult, the more I understand why so many talented writers turned to the drink or drug. This need to either enhance or dull the mind clearly tempts all kinds of artists.
Being neither a painter nor a musician, I can only speak to my experience with writing as a form of art. To write a book is to live with it from beginning to end; a writer must often eat, drink, breathe, and sleep in a creative state in order to sustain the kind of intellectual and imaginative energies necessary to endure such a project. Each genre brings its own unique list of emotionally-draining challenges. Living with my third full-length project, I am beginning to empathize with those writers who found it necessary to quiet down some of the emotional demons that crawl their way out of our brains and make their way onto the page.
But there is yet another reason why the use of mind-altering substances can play a role in writing–something I like to refer to as “Creative Lubricant.” Before I elaborate, allow me to issue a disclaimer: I am not advocating the use of any such drug or substance that would be harmful to anyone, in any situation. I am merely offering my opinion of my own past use of such things and pondering the history of said usage among other writers.
Throughout my writing career, I’ve experimented with an array of mind-altering substances in order to get my mind working in a different way. Some of it has been good, some bad. As with most things, it seems that the “everything in moderation” rules applies well here. Discussing this very topic with my dear friend, he directed me to the George Carlin interview linked here. The iconic Mr. Carlin explains what I’m talking about in such a way that I’d rather not sully it with my own interpretation.
If I don’t push myself in my writing, my skills will get rusty and I will become exponentially lackadaisical with each day that passes without substantial typing. I’ve given myself a schedule for writing this novel to prevent that from happening. For several days, I was building toward two chapters that are extremely important to the storyline, and therefore incredibly difficult to actually write. I procrastinated so long that I wasn’t sure how I’d eventually get started. I kept sitting down and then failing to have a single creative thought.
Finally on Saturday while picking up groceries, I decided to get a bottle of wine and use it as creative lubricant. Being the non-drinker that I am, I stood in the wine section for about 15 minutes, not seeing the one bottle I recognize as a good one. I know nothing about wine no matter how much people try to teach me. I’ll drink it and enjoy it (in small quantities) but simply lack the ability to retain any knowledge about years and types. I finally picked out a nice looking Cab (based solely on the label) and got all the way home before realizing that I didn’t own a corkscrew. I went back and bought one, staring at the different types with as much horror and confusion as if I were looking at an array of surgical instruments.
I read all day, napped briefly, and watered all my plants. Mona and I went for a lovely sunset bike ride and arrived home at 5:30, ready to dig into writing time. I grabbed the bottle and set to work, not having any idea what I was doing. I put the pointy end in and turned, but the damn thing didn’t seem to be able to gain purchase in the cork. I called my brother, Dylan, and said, “I’m having a retard moment. Can you talk me through this?” He asked me how mangled the cork was by this point and I said, “Dunno–pretty crumbly.” He told me that at some point it’s better to just push it down with the end of a fork or something. Or else get in touch with my inner MacGyver and figure it out. Finally I realized that it wasn’t working because I was holding the butterfly handles down so that the corkscrew never went in. I let go, and the thing worked perfectly. Oy. Sometimes I think it’s a real shame that I live alone and that no one is able to bear witness and laugh at my comedy-of-errors-lifestyle.
I poured my glass, feeling triumphant. I hadn’t done this in a while, but I had to really set the mood. I turned off the overhead light and set up two dim lamps behind me and lit candles. I set up a moody writing mix of Air, Elliott Smith, M. Ward, VAST, and Kelly Joe Phelps. The wine began working its magic on me, making the time go by much faster than usual, though I was careful to not go so far as to get myself wasted. Good writing does not often come out of being wasted. I managed to fill a full eight pages of new writing, catapulting myself forward into a much more comfortable place in the novel.
I plowed ahead the last three nights, stone-cold-sober, completing the chapters that had been giving me so much trouble. I’ll use the untimely and alcohol-related deaths of my writing forbearers as a warning, and only use the creative lubricant when all else fails. Every so often, a bottle of wine is totally worth the $12.95 I paid for it.