Writing Under the Influence


Much ink has been spilled on the question of why so many writers are alcoholics. Of America’s seven Nobel laureates, five were lushes—to whom we can add an equally drunk-and-disorderly line of Brits: Dylan Thomas, Malcolm Lowry, Brendan Behan, Patrick Hamilton, Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis, all doing the conga to (in most cases) an early grave.

John Cheever emerged from rehab a different man. “I am changed violently” he declared, although his account of enforced sobriety when he was picked up for vagrancy by the cops certainly left him unhinged:


My name is John Cheever!” he bellowed.
“Are you out of your mind?”

Found sharing some hooch
with the down-and-outs in downtown Boston,
he was promptly admitted to
Smithers Alcoholism Treatment Centre
on Manhattan’s East 93rd Street,
where he shared a room
with a failed male ballet dancer,
a delicatessen owner
and a smelly ex-sailor.

“The ballerina is up to his neck in bubble bath
reading a biography of Edith Piaf,”
he noted in his journal.
He spent most of his time in group therapy
correcting his counselor’s grammar.
“Displaying much grandiosity and pride,”
they wrote in their notes.
“Very impressed with self.”

Eventually he fell silent.
Four weeks later he emerged,
shaky, fragile and subdued.

“Listen, Truman,” he told Truman Capote.
“It’s the most terrible, glum place
you can conceivably imagine.
It’s really really, really grim.
But I did come out of there sober.”


Intelligent Life




~ by eaesthete on 07/23/09.

5 Responses to “Writing Under the Influence”

  1. what a wonderful, intersting post. loved it.

  2. I wonder why most writers love alcohol…but, I guess most people do. There are lots of people, who aren’t writers, who love to get drunk or to drink a glass of wine.
    I guess writers are part of that percentage that like alcohol.

    • If you hit the source link “Intelligent Life” you can read the entire article which is utterly fascinating. Highly recommended. But to answer your query, Donald Goodwin in his book “Alcohol and the Writer” had this to say:

      “Writing involves fantasy; alcohol promotes fantasy. Writing requires self-confidence; alcohol bolsters confidence. Writing is lonely work; alcohol assuages loneliness. Writing demands intense concentration; alcohol relaxes.”

      BTW, lovely avatar!

  3. Love this post. It is just what I needed today. Feeling melancholy, having spent an evening with a(secret flame) friend from years past – over far too many drinks. Waxing nostalgic….

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