When I decided to write a book, just after deactivating my Facebook account in a fit of pique, I also decided I would act like a professional writer, even though I wasn’t one yet. To me this entails reading everything I can get my hands on, writing every free minute of the day, and drinking heavily. I decided I wouldn’t curb my alcohol intake at all, at least until the book was finished.

Because this shit is harder than you would think. I love doing it, but sometimes I feel like I have a million problems to work out and I will never, ever get to them all. As Hunter S. Thompson said, writing is like chopping wood; a taxing and seemingly endless chore.

Well, the book is almost finished and I’ve been on a bender so long I can’t even remember when or how it started. I’m starting to feel like Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas. Not physically, physically I feel great, which worries me. Surely I’m not super human. What are the odds that I have the physiology of a Lemmy von Motorhead or a Keith Richards? I’m probably more like a David Crosby, which means in a few years I’ll be shaking down doctors for a new set of organs.

The writers I admire were (or still are) all drunks; Thompson, whom I’ve already mentioned, Christopher Hitchens, Ernest Hemingway. Hem was such a drunk towards the end of his life you could actually see the outline of his bloated liver through his skin. Hitch wears his chronic inebriation proudly even now, though he’s been diagnosed with terminal cancer, which may or may not have been the result of his lifestyle. He faces this possibility with the utmost dignity, accepting the outcome and acknowledging that a life hard lived might meet its end sooner rather than later.

Another person I admire greatly, and who was a writer of sorts, was William Melvin Hicks. He was a comedian first and foremost, but I like to think of him as a philosopher because the term comedian doesn’t do him justice. He liked to belittle those hell bent on the pursuit of physical health, using a semi-famous fitness guru from 80s by the name of Jim Fixx as a prime example. Fixx was a talk show staple who touted the benefits of clean living. He dropped dead of a heart attack while out on a jog. Hicks was fond of imaging Fixx in heaven, trading stories with celebrities who lived their lives to excess, while Fixx would meekly add (and I’m paraphrasing), “I went wild one night and had an extra carrot stick.”

Back to Lemmy, who is not a writer but happens to be one of the world’s greatest living drunkards. He claims to have drunk a bottle of Jack Daniels every day for the last 30 years, and I’m inclined to believe him. This is a man who was bounced from the druggiest band in England for doing too many drugs. (Though, as he put it, he was really guilty of doing the wrong kind of drugs; the rest of Hawkwind were into mind expanding hallucinogens, while Lemmy preferred uppers, like speed.) A band mate said Lemmy was once so inebriated that he not only forgot how to play bass, he actually forgot what a bass was, and the rest of the band had to reacquaint him with it right before a show. Of course, Lemmy pulled through because he is the consummate professional, unlike his contemporary Ozzy Osbourne, who can barely form a sentence and must be wheeled into performances by his macro cephalic daughter.

Obviously you trade off. Maybe all this hard living will knock a few years off my life (Although, I read somewhere that drunks tend to live longer. I can’t remember when or where I read that, because I was probably drunk at the time). But would these be the years spent in a nursing home, fending off necrophiliac orderlies and other sadists? Would my loved ones be long gone and forgotten, along with all my cherished memories? Would these years be filled with day time TV and pointless conversations and absolutely nothing to look forward to? Well, who needs that shit? I’d rather live it up now and deal with the consequences. I mean, something’s going to kill me. I could get cancer, I could be run over by a bus, a disgruntled employee could come into my office right now and fill me full of lead. So I’m taking the high road. So to speak.

The title of this essay comes from something Ernest Hemingway once said, lest anyone erroneously believes me to be so clever.

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STACIE ADAMS is a drinker with a writing problem. She's currently working on a novel and hopes to complete it before the world ends in 2012. When she's not reading or writing she's at the bar telling people about the time she saw Queens of the Stone Age in a fortress in Germany. Her alter ego can be found at The First Church of mutterhals

31 responses to “Write Drunk, Edit Sober”

  1. James D. Irwin says:

    I used to predominately write late at night into early morning whilst drinking whatever whiskey I couldn’t afford. I’ve always been of the mind that if you’re going to be a drunk you might as well be a classy one with standards…

    Then I found I preferred writing early in the morning with nothing more stimulating than strong black coffee.

    It really pissed me off.

    Although in a fair trade off I run comedy nights where I get free drinks instead of payment so I get to work into the early hours slowly getting drunk and thoroughly abusing the generosity of the venue managers…

    • mutterhals says:

      My drink of choice when writing is brandy, although I’m still working my way up to the good stuff.

      • James D. Irwin says:

        Brandy is pretty classy. Like a 19th century French poet after the absinthe crazed died down…

        In the glory days I had on my desk a bottle of JD, a bottle of Jim Beam, and a bottle of Wild Turkey I bought specifically to drink whilst covering the 2008 Presential Election for a tiny magazine no-one has heard of.

        At the moment I have mid range blended scotch. I’m thinking of moving onto rum for the summer. Good rum is cheaper than good whiskey.

  2. Becky Palapala says:

    I’ve been trying since high school and I have never, ever been able to get intoxicants to work for me in a creative capacity.

    Not LSD, not weed, not alcohol.

    Invariably, I just say terrible, banal, or nonsensical things, nothing that would be interesting to a sober reader–nothing that is even interesting to me when I am sober, and I wrote it. I have never really tried editing sober, I can’t usually bear to look at the things I’ve written long enough to amend them.

    This is troubling to me. This means that, against all odds, storied tradition, and the example of a number of my idols, my passion for drinking and my passion for writing are at odds with one another.

    Unwilling to give up either for the other, I just continue doing both in a sort of half-assed way, never committing. Not this instant, of course, with the creature on board, but you get my point.

    That said, when I do flirt with the idea of making a career shift and becoming a full-time drunkard, I look at this website. You will like it:

    http://www.drunkard.com/

    • mutterhals says:

      There really is a Goldilocks zone of drunkeness. One drink too many and I’m writing thousands of pages on how great the Discovery Health channel is. I think your way is better, though, all of the writers I mentioned tended to flame out spectacularly. Thanks for that link, the article on hangovers had me howling, as did your comment about ‘the creature.’

      • Becky Palapala says:

        How sad! I just realized they pay for articles but aren’t currently accepting submissions.

        Due to excessive backlog.

        Pretty sure there’s always going to be an excessive backlog at a magazine by and for drunkards.

        They should have protocols in place. One might take them for amateurs.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      I can’t write comedy whilst drinking, because it requires too much focus and coherence.

      What it’s really good for though is that obviously thoughts, perspectives, and emotions change when you’ve had a bit to drink and a lot of the time I’ll write things that are a lot more open and honest than if I’d been sober.

      Or just angrier.

      And then, if I’m lucky, they’ll be enough to sculpt into something interesting in the morning.

      Write drunk, edit sober I guess…

  3. jmblaine says:

    insane with brilliance
    just in the title even!
    Writing is like
    chopping wood in the dark
    & you don’t even have a fireplace
    like chopping the wood for the fireplace
    you do not have & mid-chop
    deciding that instead you should
    use your axe to hack a reproduction
    of the Pieta, in cedar no less
    except you find out an hour later
    your logs are Oak.

    any post with Lemmy
    gets post of the month from me.
    Lay off the Ozz though
    He & Lemmy wrote
    Mama I’m Coming Home
    together

  4. Joe Daly says:

    You bring up an interesting point about motivation and inspiration- does it come from the work of the author, or his or her lifestyle while creating it.

    I used to enjoy a similar approach- I’d get loaded and start writing flash fiction pieces. To be fair, I came up with a few that I think are pretty good. The other 90% were pretty bad. Delete bad.

    But I found that the more attention I spent on trying to be or look like a writer, the less I paid attention to what I was writing. Eventually, I made a choice and gave up writing. For many years.

    I love Lemmy and am entirely ambivalent on Ozzy. But I’ll say that I hope to God Lemmy isn’t an organ donor, because whoever would end up with his liver would be in for a very difficult recovery.

    • mutterhals says:

      I think I’m as hooked on writing as I am to alcohol. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I must go out and do things, otherwise I won’t have anything to write about. But I can’t say what motivates me one way or another, I’ll experience something really mundane and be compelled to write about it, and conversely I’ll go through something supposedly life altering and have a hard time putting it into words. It’s so vague I frequently worry about ‘losing’ the ability.

  5. I’ve always found booze and other intoxicants to be helpful, but as Hemingway mentioned, it took a fair bit of sober editing to get the results readable.

    It was about two years ago that I began writing my novel (I’ve written other novels and half-novels, but they’re all dead and forgotten) and just last night I typed in the final words. I did it with a glass of rum and orange juice, which was what I was drinking when I wrote the first 10,000 words. Yeah. 10,000. Only rum could have let me do that much. I wrote the next 70,000 with rum in my system over the course of a fortnight, but it’s taken 2 yrs of rewriting to get the fucker vaguely publishable.

    • mutterhals says:

      I’m ashamed at how long it’s taken me. Everyone’s like ‘soooo, how’s that book coming?’ That question makes me want to smack someone in the teeth. Also, I get upset when people ask me how many pages it is. It’s 9,000 pages, I’m Ayn Rand. Congratulations, I’ll have a drink or ten for you tonight!

      • James D. Irwin says:

        As far as I’m concerned you can take as long as you like as long as you’re actually putting the work in and not just talking about it all the time.

        There are at least three wankers in my creative writing class who are always talking about writing a novel, but never actually do anything and always have a reason why they can’t explain what it’s about or why they can’t show it to you…

        Nothing wrong with quality control. Mine took 9 months.

        Like a child.

        Although it was born with serious defects that need attention I’m not prepared to give it right now.

        Because I hate children…

  6. mutterhals says:

    @ James

    I didn’t even tell people for the longest time, because I didn’t want to be that person who always talks about writing a book but never does. Now that I’m almost finished I’m giddy, I can’t stop talking about it. I gave myself a really long time, since I never did anything like this before, and I’m using about every fucking second I’ve alloted myself.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      When something like that is finished/as good as finished it’s okay because by that stage your one of the few people who’s actually written a fucking novel and not one of those tossers who keeps saying ‘I might write a novel one day…’

      Having written a novel is awesome and once you’ve done it you’ve earnt the right to yell it into the faces of those inferior to you.

      There’s no way anyone can ever be as bad as the girl in my Creative Writing class who starts every sentence with a reference to the characters in her novel that she’s been writing for five years.

      It’s about vampires, apparently.

      • mutterhals says:

        I tried to leave this comment like 40 fucking times. I knew a guy who was writing a book based on a fast food commercial. What the fuck do you even say to that? I think I laughed in his face.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          It came up in my inbox yesterday. I haven’t been able to access the site since last night. I was about to post my first piece in months and everything…

          Anyway, it would be hard to react to that with a straight face/sounding sincere in any way shape or form. Especially as I’m not sure if I’m joking when I say I would totally read a novel based on a fast food commercial.

          I guess how loosely the term ‘based on’ applies, and the genre of the novel. That’s being generous though and thinking maybe it might be a humorous satire of consumerism…

  7. Greg Olear says:

    A weeklong bender can soothe the soul from time to time, true, but once you hit 30 or so, your body stops cooperating. I rarely drink (to excess) these days, mostly because I hate being hung over so much, and any buzz isn’t worth the aftermath. Not with two little kids who won’t let me sleep past six. Enjoy it while you can.

    That said, while the piece is, as we’ve come to expect, very funny — I’m sure you are a great person to go have beers with — I have to disagree with the thesis. Hemingway’s best stuff was written when he was young, more diligent, and less of an alkie. Fitzgerald, ditto (it could be argued that alcohol ruined him, in fact, from a literary standpoint…everything after Gatsby is as sloppy as he was while writing). Joyce wasn’t a drunk, Nabokov wasn’t a drunk, Salinger wasn’t a drunk, Hardy and Dickens weren’t drunks, and on it goes.

    “No one ever wrote anything after even one beer better than he would have sober.” (from memory, so maybe a bit of paraphrase) — Ring Lardner

    • anon says:

      In other words….grow up.

    • anon says:

      The great writers were great writers. It had nothing to do with drinking. They were gifted individuals. I am so sick and tired of today’s so called “writers” who decide that they have to drink to excess, say fuck you to so called normal life and shit on people who actually go to work each day. You want to know why you are not published???? Nobody cares and you don’t have anything interesting to say! Do yourself a favor. Either go back to school or get a job. Write about that.

  8. mutterhals says:

    I take your point, most of the people I mentioned basically drank or drugged themselves into hackery (with the exception of Hitch, who makes everyone else look like the shaved apes that we are). I remember reading somewhere that Thompson wasn’t the same after his first wife divorced him, that he didn’t write the same, that he didn’t have the same passion for writing.

    I don’t really take it as a hard and fast rule. I write constantly, whether I’m drunk or sober. I guess this is more like my life philosophy, do what thou wilt and consequences be damned. Thanks for your comment.

  9. Seth Pollins says:

    I really enjoy your voice in this piece–your humor and bravado. Like Greg, I disagree with your premise, but that’s just because I’ve never been able to write worth shit when drunk. Who knows, maybe your like Bukowski. But was Bukowski like Bukowski? It’s the vacation from being drunk, I think, that fuels the best writing. In my experience, sober people can be boring. But drunk people are much more boring. You’re not boring. I doubt you were drunk when you wrote this.

    Whatever the case, I think this post qualifies as meeting Holden Caufield’s prerequisite for good writing:

    “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”

    Nice to meet you. 🙂

    • Seth Pollins says:

      Oh my god, that smiley face is hideous. That was not my intention. I merely thought the colon and parenthesis would show up–not that hideous smiley face. I’m sorry. Can you please edit that smiley face out? Awful!

      • mutterhals says:

        Ha! Thanks, I appreciate your comment. I can’t even get my avatar to show up half the time, so don’t worry about it. I think the last comment I left I misspelled my email address. There is nothing more boring than hanging out with a drunk person when you are stone sober, the few times I’ve been in that situation I’ve felt homicidal.

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