Many and many-a great, or dare I say, legendary, writers have had a thing for alcohol. For a good deal of these writers, that’s putting it lightly. Many were full-blown alcoholics.
With guys like Earnest Hemingway, Hunter S. Thompson, James Joyce, and Raymond Chandler, you may think drinking a case of beer is a prerequisite for good writing.
Then, of course, there're guys like Stephen King. King would drink a case of beer a night, until, well, his popularity exploded, and he traded out his case of brews for cocaine. (Which, interestingly enough, I just read he used cocaine to cope with his alcohol addiction.)
Why do so many writers drink?
Well, there are a bunch of reasons:
Drinking diminishes your fears while boosting your self-confidence. It tanks your inhibitions and calms your mind. And many writers feel like they write better when they’re a little tipsy.
I both agree and disagree
(Or at least I thought…)
Sometimes I’ll sip on a nice Old Fashioned or Manhattan when I write. This is rare, but happens. And I do it strategically.
Usually, if I have a drink while I’m working, it’s because I’m pumping out an insane amount of content and need a bit of mental relief. Or an extra oomph to get me through the rest of my project.
Sometimes, it marginally improves my writing.
Other times, it makes my writing discombobulated and chaotic.
My preferred beverage of choice for writing is, of course, a steaming cup of black coffee (and a tasty Zyn pouch).
But I saw a tweet from the great Jim Clair recently who made me question my belief about alcohol.
Jim’s tweet wasn’t about writing, instead, it was about playing music.
Before starting my writing career, I played in a touring band. I have some 300+ live shows under my belt, which is an insane amount for someone who’s not a “professional” musician.
We played a lot of bar gigs in the band. And bar gigs would often offer you free drinks all night.
It goes without saying: We played a lot of shows buzzed. And yes, we played a few shows absolutely hammered.
Back in the day, I always thought alcohol helped me play better music, for the same reasons legendary writers drank:
It squashed my fear. Boosted my confidence. Lowered my inhibitions. And relaxed my body and mind. Playing tense makes for shitty music.
And I always thought I played better when I had a drink or two.
Of course, there was a fine line between a couple drinks making you feel looser and a metric fvckton of drinks making it so you can’t play a single correct note.
But then Jim Clair’s tweet kinda changed my mind:
Jim also used to play in cover bands at bar gigs. In his tweet, Jim claimed that even having one drink would throw off timing and accuracy.
And so, I decided to test out Jim’s theory.
As I write this, I have my first gig in 5 years coming up in a month. And I’ve been practicing a lot after work.
I practiced two nights in a row. The first night I drank a couple Old Fashioneds. The second night I was stone cold sober.
And you know what?
I played tighter, more accurate, and even more creative when I didn’t drink the devil’s juice.
This came as a big shock to me.
And so it is with writing.
Now, I do most of my writing in the morning, so I can’t really put this to the test the same way I did for playing music. But writing and playing music have many similarities.
So, I have bad news if you’re an aspiring writer:
Drinking on the job won’t make you a better writer.
I’m not sure if there’s a lesson in this email or not. But it interested me, and that, my friend, is all that matters.
And I’m gonna keep sipping on this delicious cup of black coffee.