A Book and a Drink

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Why does novel writing, an apparently innocent, erudite pursuit, bring out the beast in people?

First, a short set of instructions:

 

How to be a Writer

If you are so hell-bent on becoming an intellectual;

A person who is so enamoured with themselves that they desire

To keep themselves alive through the creation of characters like themselves,

And reproductions of their own life by a different moniker,

Then so be it.

 

But at least make sure your pencil is sharp.

 

You need to write all the time, and read every day.

Well, you probably already do, don’t you?

You drink in all the greats

Stealing their ideas

And telling yourself that they’re your own.

 

You must make friends with literary people; you must make them like you.

Stand around, crystalized in a process of embarrassment,

Waiting for conversation to abate

So that you can throw in a business card

Or a quote from your latest work.

 

You’d better develop a drinking problem.

It’s the most fashionable way to write. Who wants to write sober?

Better yet, develop depression.

More meaningful patter always comes from a sensitive soul

Coming at the human condition from a ‘wallowing in pain’ kind of perspective.

 

Don’t forget: a fresh pad of paper.

 

You are fast becoming proficient in lies;

This is the right way to go about it.

For what is writing but drawing people

Into a gorgeous, convoluted

Lie?

 

You must remember – The publisher is always right. Revisions are part of life. Take your head out of your arse, only slightly.

If you think about it, it seems only right that the lonely, self-indulgent lifestyle of many literary greats should involve a healthy dose of hedonism. You’re constantly under pressure – pressure from those who want your work, from your bills (unopened), from the ideas in your head dancing and wailing towards and then away from you before you can catch them, cluttering up the otherwise unbreakable silence that is writer’s block. Too much of this; too much concentration, too many revisions, too much pride quickly knocked down by plagues of doubt, often results in a reach towards a decanter (well, let’s be honest, today it’s more likely to be a bottle of own brand wine). Imagine your darkest times sat in front of a computer screen, alone, questioning yourself, trying desperately to get to the end of an essay. Then, perhaps, multiply this by ten. Thirsty?

To be honest, it must take a tortured soul to decide to become a writer anyway (but hopefully not in my case…). You are making a conscious decision to sit, alone, creating long complex texts which you send out in to the ether in a quest for appreciation of your talents. Surely you must go mad when your goals in life become so entrenched in monomania.

So, clearly, both we the audience, and authors themselves build up some idealistic, romantic and tempestuous vision of what a writer should be, based on writers we feel have been only too happy to live up to it. Hemingway is an obvious place to start. His characters’ wild behaviour reflected his own. His life was a timeline of alcoholic discovery, during which he went from a binge drinker who frolicked with whores to a steady imbiber whom no one could keep up with. Bottle by bottle, he became a legend, a depressive, and then a perpetrator of suicide. James Joyce brawled in pubs; Jack Kerouac had liver cirrhosis; Oscar Wilde was partial to Absinthe.

So, why do writers live, love and drink to excess? Maybe it’s because the desire to write and the desire to drink and over consume come from similar places. Both pursuits are an adventure; a way of escaping the everyday and the banal. With practice, you get better at them. They are both amusing, and a way of entering a serious state. When you do either, you feel above everyone else, invincible, all knowing, charming. Once you catch the bug, you want to get that feeling back again and again. And so the two arts intertwine.

Don’t think that this article is an excuse to crack open the vodka because you’re bored of work, or have just finished your first draft. You haven’t earned the right to drink and devise yet; and what you come up with will surely be crap.

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