Liquor Nerd: Alcohol has often fuelled the world’s best writers
Asked about his alcohol consumption way, way back in the day, Stephen King gave the kind of response you’d hope for from one of the most creative minds in fiction. The question was “Do you drink?” And the answer was “I just said I was a writer.”
The modern-day (and now sober) Master of Horror isn’t the only one who’s contributed to the myth that writing and cocktails have traditionally gone together like ink and paper.
You want one of the greatest quotes of the 20th century? That would be one from Dorothy Parker, on the magic of her go-to drink: “I like to have a martini, two at the very most. After three I’m under the table, after four I’m under my host.”
And before you start railing on about the devil’s nectar and the way that it’s ruined everything from Christmas to your cranium, consider that Parker lived to the ripe old age of 73, leaving a legacy that 99.9 percent of people who’ve walked this earth can only dream of.
King and Parker aren’t alone. Here’s a very short list of folks who’s creativity was deeply interwoven with drinking: Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson, Tennessee Williams, John Cheever, Raymond Carver, William Faulkner, John Berryman, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Charles Bukowski. Yes, there are a couple of heavyweights in there.
Six of those writers and their fondness for getting totally blotto in front of the typewriter are chronicled in Olivia Laing’s excellent 2013 The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking. The British author travelled across the States hoping to better understand the link between creativity and alcoholism, her journey including pilgrimages to the stomping grounds of her subjects.
One of her most revelatory observations is this: “I was beginning to think that drinking might be a way of disappearing from the world.”
Funnily enough, she could have been describing the craft of writing.
No one writes anything while having coffee with a friend at Continental, or after-work cocktails with colleagues at the Cambie. It’s something that’s undeniably solitary in nature.
To write anything of any worth you have to disappear from the world, whether that means locking yourself in a home office or simply unplugging from Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Six Degrees at the coffee shop.
(The great Jonathan Franzen once sagely observed that nothing worthwhile was ever written with an Internet connection. He could not have been more correct.)
Ask a creative person where their ideas come from, and the answer is almost always that they don’t know. It’s certainly not something you make happen—try and force things and you’ll spend hours staring at a blank digital page and an endlessly blinking cursor.
The ideas that become words tend to lurk somewhere in the shadows of the mind, rarely fully formed. Without sounding all new-agey, if you can learn to disappear into yourself you eventually get the hang of grabbing those ideas, dragging them into the light, and shaping them into something useful.
And you know what’s great for disappearing into yourself? Assuming your drinking patterns aren’t modelled on Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas, the answer is alcohol.
Writing is also scary—ask anyone who’s ever had to show the first draft of a script or a novel to a friend. When you’re trying to be creative, it’s easy to let the voices that torment us all start wreaking havoc.
If you’ve ever rolled over in the morning and asked yourself “How did I get into bed with Brad Pitt last night?” (and ladies, that goes for you too), you know that alcohol can lower your inhibitions and boost your confidence. And if writers have anything in common, it’s that they tend to secretly lack confidence while being entirely confident that they are entirely worthless as human beings.
The moral of all this? It’s that, used responsibly, alcohol can be your valuable crutch no matter how much you’ve convinced yourself you’ll never even write a grocery list worth reading.
So you wanna be a writer? You know what to do.
Here’s a spin on a 1920s-era cocktail that you can make to celebrate the power of words and the beauty of a boozy escape.
The Last Canadian Word
3/4 oz. Sipsmith gin
1/4 oz. Capel pisco
3/4 oz. Green Charteuse
1/2 oz. Luxardo Maraschino
3/4 oz. fresh-squeezed lime
1/4 oz. maple syrup
Pour all into a shaker over ice, shake vigorously, and then strain into a cocktail glass.