Last weekend, I went to a Gaudy at my alma mater, and lifted a glass of water for the Floreat Domus.* My university friends were surprised to see me off the sauce. But the truth is, I gave up drinking almost exactly a year ago, and haven’t found sobriety difficult. Why? No mystery – I just got fed up with the hangovers.
I’m not totally teetotal: I still have the odd tipple, on special occasions like Christmas or my birthday. My (truthful) boast is that I now only drink champagne. I also have a (very old) miniature bottle of absinthe on my bookshelf. I’m thinking of having it framed, with the legend: ‘Story Juice. In case of emergency, break glass.’
I’ve noticed people often expect writers to be heavy drinkers – it’s all part of the mystique, or something. You may recall I’ve even described a writer’s life as ‘Pyjamas and gin’ on this very blog. My grandmother recently shared a picture on Facebook with the legend ‘Write sober, edit less’ – a variant on the line ‘Write drunk, edit sober’ frequently (mis)attributed to Ernest Hemingway.
I’m not going to claim I’ve never written drunk. But Grandma’s pat little slogan holds within it a deeper truth: that chemical imbalances aren’t actually that helpful if you’re trying to get stuff done, and ‘stuff’ includes writing. There’s a whole mythology that substance abuse is some kind of muse, and if I wanted to I could pretend that time I washed down my prescription painkillers with gin and then wrote some trippy flash fiction made me part of an honourable tradition stretching back to the Romance poets with their laudanum and Hemingway with his rum cocktails. But that would be kind of pointless.
I’m now going to hand over to Stephen King (a former alcoholic himself), from his book On Writing:
‘The idea that creative endeavour and mind-altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time… Substance-abusing writers are just… common garden-variety drunks and druggies…Any claims that the drugs and alcohol are necessary to dull a finer sensibility are just the usual self-serving bullshit.’
Ultimately, writing is a job, and drink doesn’t help you to do it any more than it helps you to do any other job. That said, I’m not getting rid of the absinthe just yet. Better safe than sorry.
*translation: I went to a reunion at my old college, and lifted a glass of water for the toast.