The famed writer’s fuel of old was alcohol. Male writers, in particular, were famed for being big boozers: Ernest Hemingway, Hunter S Thompson, Raymond Chandler, Tennessee Williams, Edgar Allen Poe, Truman Capote, Jack Kerouac, William Faulkner, Charles Bukowski, F Scott Fitzgerald, Dylan Thomas, James Joyce … the list is endless. Boozing has long been regarded as a manly pursuit, and is too often regarded as somewhat sad or seedy when engaged in by women.
What with all these famous drinking authors, one could be forgiven for believing that alcohol somehow unlocks a certain access to creativity. But, can writers write whilst drinking, or drunk?
Truman Capote famously said of writing while drinking …
“its impossible, writing requires too much concentration. But after a long bout of concentration, it can be helpful to have a drink and loosen one’s mind a little bit.”
This view is shared by a recovering alcoholic of my acquaintance who used it to quiet his mind. Suffering from Aspergers, he found it difficult to concentrate, as his mind would be running up to a dozen trains of thought consecutively.
As most of us know, it is possible to write drunk, but even a text message can be troublesome after too much has been partaken. James Baldwin, another infamous drinker admitted …
“at the time I was high and writing, I knew that what I was putting down was my most brilliant work ever; in the morning, I reread my work and tore it to pieces, it was so awful.”
While these two famous authors might be the exception, it does seem to make sense that whilst authors do drink, that’s not what makes them writers. Nor does drinking turn on some recessive writing gene.
Currently, especially within the Twitter #WritingCommunity, coffee seems to be the rocket fuel which powers most writers. Sure, there’s a handful who – like me – drink tea instead. I morphed to tea drinking when coffee started to bite back after far too many years of drinking it too strong, too black and in too great a quantity. And while I do enjoy my tea (Earl grey, dash of milk to quote one Jean-Luc Picard), it doesn’t do what coffee used to do, which is to give me a firm kick up the backside and get me moving. Tea – for me anyway – is more of a multiple-cup, slow-burn kind of experience.
I tried decaffinated coffee for years, but it was tough finding one that didn’t taste of absolutely nothing. I did eventually find one – surprisingly, it was instant <gasp> called the Languid Bean. It was absolutely splendid, tasty with a wonderful aroma, doing absolutely no harm to the increasingly delicate insides, while also being more effective than tea in getting this writer moving. Then it disappeared totally from the shelves. Clearly there weren’t enough people wanting (or needing) decaffinated coffee, or perhaps I was ahead of the trend.
These days there are more options, with even Nespresso offering a wide range of decaffinated capsules – but they don’t seem to have any zing. So I’m still on the lookout for something – anything – other than the dreaded diet coke.
As this light-hearted look at writer’s fuel brings an end to a challenging year, may I offer you all an end-of-year toast …
© Debra Carey, 2020