Drinking and Writing: Like Scotch and Soda or Oil and Water?

By Jenna Hollenstein

Julia Cameron says early in her book The Artist’s Way that before she quit drinking, she thought writing and drinking went together like scotch and soda. Before I quit drinking, I agreed. Writing and drinking seemed the perfect couple, like Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald (acrimony, schizophrenia, and alcoholism notwithstanding). Pouring a glass of wine and sitting down to the computer or mixing a martini and curling up with a moleskine notebook was the most romantic pairing I could imagine.

I idolized the likes of Hemingway and Cheever, who wrote beautiful prose while marinating in wine and gin. Even contemporary writers like Burroughs, Karr, and Knapp, whose quintessential memoirs chronicled their respective roads to recovery, seemed to have honed their craft while under the influence.

When I was writing my first book, I procrastinated…a lot. I feared writing poorly and wanted to “get it right” the first time. So I developed avoidance techniques. For example, I wouldn’t write unless I had eight uninterrupted hours. This happened rarely, and when it did, I managed to spend most of that time cleaning, paying bills, rearranging my library…you get the idea.

The other thing I did to avoid the blank page was drink. I convinced myself that the glass of wine would loosen me up, allow the words to flow, grease the finger joints a little. One glass invariably turned into two, which made it difficult to concentrate and hold the thread of an idea. It also made a nap seem like a wise alternative to “forcing” the writing process, after which point no writing would get done.

When I drank, I spent more time thinking about writing than actually writing. Although every thought I had seemed brilliant, when the time came for capturing those brilliant thoughts on paper, they fell flat. Though my idols could drink and be struck with bolts of creative lightning, I needed to be fully present for every word. The book I was writing required targeted research, short spurts of writing, and careful editing. Drinking didn’t aid this process; it stopped it in its tracks.

It wasn’t until I created a strict schedule that included specific, achievable goals and brief bouts of writing – and banished alcohol until the writing was done – that any real progress was made and I finally completed the manuscript. Six months after my book was published, I quit drinking.

In his book On Writing, the famously prolific Stephen King writes about getting sober, “…I never stopped writing. Some of the stuff that came out was tentative and flat, but at least it was there…Little by little I found the beat again, and after that I found the joy again.”

My romantic ideal of the drinking writer has dissolved like sugar cubes in a mojito. Writing, at least for me, isn’t romantic; it’s much more banal – and wonderful, enlightening, and useful. I too have found the joy again.

I still procrastinate when I have to face the blank page (some might say I’ve replaced drinking with the Real Housewives of NYC) but once I let go of my expectations and renew my commitment to the practice of writing, I can finally get some work done.

Jenna Hollenstein blogs about quitting drinking–what she lost and what she gained–at Drinking to Distraction.

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Mitt Romney’s Greatest Challenge: Mastering the Barstool

Who knew success in the presidential debate could come down to the ability to look comfortable sitting on a barstool? People tend to stereotype barflies as underachievers, but in this case, Mitt Romney was handicapped by his teetotaling ways.

As  a Mormon, Romney hasn’t spent any time hanging out in bars, so he had lots of catching up to do. According to CNN’s Dana Bash, during the candidates’ extensive debate preparation, he spent much of his time practicing the art of sitting on a barstool.

David Gergen, senior political analyst for CNN, tweeted about the barstool prep (“Great footnote: CNN reports Romney practicing sitting on a bar stool — never been there. How many of us have THAT problem? .#cnndebate”) Indeed.

Even though Romney’s camp denied it, Stephen Colbert had a field day with the prep. He cited Mitt’s “lack of stool experience” as one of his greatest challenges in the debate. “Where would he have seen a barstool?” Colbert asked. “His kitchen counter? Everyone knows the Romney family eats standing at podiums.”

Colbert quipped: “Only people who drink know how to sit on stools. That’s why whenever you see someone successfully sitting on one, that is an early sign of alcoholism.”

So could Romney’s non-drinking handicap him in this election? Here’s a quote from a recent New York Times piece, “Feeling the Pressure to Drink for Work”:  “For professionals who abstain from alcohol — for health, religion, recovery or simple preference — it can sometimes seem harder to get ahead if you’re not willing to throw one back.”

We at Drinking Diaries have been saying it all along–eventually, everything in our culture circles around to drinking, even a (seemingly) sober debate.

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Alc-O-Vision?

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There’s no doubt that the TV show, “Mad Men,” and all its 1960s recreation has had a great impact on daytime drinking at the workplace. My husband has even concocted a little tray area with Scotch and old-fashioned glasses since we found ourselves under the spell of Don Draper and his cohorts. And in a previous Drinking Diaries post, we highlighted the enlightening efforts of the editors at XX magazine who recorded their daytime-at-the-office drinking in a video called “Can We Drink Like They Do On ‘Mad Men?‘””

In a piece in the New York Times, “Pairing a DVD and a Drink Takes Care,” Wendall Jamieson takes the matching of drinks and film to a new level. He first claims that he’s been choosing his alcoholic beverage to pair what plays on his screen for the past 15 years–way before the potent effects of Don and Betty Draper–and then goes on to feature some of his favorite films and TV series with his accompanied beverage of choice.

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Not sure I’ll be drinking a Rittenhouse Rye old-fashioned when the new season of “Mad Men” begins this July, but I’m sure I’ll come up with something. In the meantime, we’d love to hear if you have any favorite movie and drink pairings of your own, so feel free to share in the comment box below…

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