October 18, 2011

Why Authors Drink

I stare at the screen and he stares back in defiant silence, a bold white canvas daring me to conjure up a story.  I close my eyes, but the picture is fuzzy at best.  I have scenes.  Tiny scenes.  Incomplete.  Flashes of movement and a vague sense of mood.  I turn again, but this time to my inner critic.

What if this sucks?
What if the conflict doesn't create the right tension? 
What if the scene feels corny? 
What if the dialogue doesn't differentiate voice well enough? 
What if my work never gets published?
What if I work hard and no one reads it? 
Am I, at that point, no different than the crazy man who talks to himself?

I used to believe that authors drank out of a bohemian stereotype.  I thought they sought out booze and philandering and loud arguments as source material for their work.  I figured Captain Morgan was just another muse, but one who never asked a person to give anything back in return.

I'm starting to wonder if alcohol is less about the experience and more about a security blanket.  It's a shot of cheap courage and a dose of anesthesia simultaneously.  It's two feet planted firmly on the ground, but it's also wobbly knees and a cloudy head.  It's permission to be reckless and it's a calm in the face of chaos.

No one told me how terrifying fiction would be.  There is a risk in creating something.  There's the fear that it won't be as good as I had hoped, that what began as something that felt profound and meaningful will be trite and dull.  It's why I walked away from the blank document this morning and turned to Twitter.  I don't have to create anything on Twitter.

There's a fear afterward of looking at a piece honestly after I've written it.  After working so hard to silence the critic, it's hard to open the cage and let him roam freely.  I want to protect what I've written.  I want to believe it was somehow more special than it really was.  And it's hard to face it with clear eyes and say, "this isn't working."

For the record, I don't drink much and I don't drink regularly.  However, I get why so many authors drank themselves to death.  They weren't wild.  They weren't bohemian.  They were scared that they wouldn't be able to create and they were scared of what they had created.


  1. This post has been running around in my mind for a good five days now. You really captured something here that writers have a hard time communicating. The curse of work extends to every field--we experience our own toils in cultivating words and stories (mainly within ourselves).

    This post validates and inspires me while simultaneously haunts me--because another killer is silence. Makes me wonder what other stories Harper Lee has in her that have gone unwritten simply because she thinks she could never achieve anything better than her one piece of art. "Well, it's better to be silent than to be a fool." Is there anything more heartbreakingly foolish than that line?

  2. Every time I pick up a pen the only thing that runs through my mind is “this sucks” repeatedly. I think everything I write is horrible. Writing can be so hard on my confidence that I need to take breaks from it just to function in life. Im trying to articulate emotions that I barely know how to describe. Things inside me that come from places that I never knew existed.

    Your post made me realize something. Ive never written after a few drinks. I think I should try this. I fear just about everything in art. The thought of being a career artist or author scares me to fucking death. It’s easier for me to hide behind the “im not author” label because if I do that then Im not held to any real artistic standard. If what I write sucks, then it doesn’t matter. I relate to everything you wrote.

  3. I never introduce myself as an author, because I see myself as an amateur as "not being real" despite selling some books. I cringe when I hear it, because I feel like a fraud when someone says this.