Let’s cover booze first…
And the most famous boozy writer of all time?
Take Ernest Hemingway.
A prolific and inspired writer, he was also notorious for his drinking.
His biographer Anthony Burgess wrote:
“The manager of the Gritti Palace in Venice tells me…that three bottles of Valpolicella rst thing in the day were nothing to him, then there were the daiquiris, Scotch, tequila, bourbon, vermouthless martinis. e physical punishment he took from alcohol was… actively courted.”
Although he struggled with alcoholism, Hemingway went to great lengths to sober up before the end his life, and he never wrote while drunk.
In Interview Magazine, Hemingway’s granddaughter Mariel said about Ernest:
“That’s not how he wrote. He never wrote drunk, he never wrote beyond early, early morning….So many writers glorify my grandfather’s way of living as much as they glorify his work. And so they try and mirror that. I think it’s the misperception of addiction and living life on the edge, as if it’s cool.”
Ernest wasn’t alone
The short-story writer and poet Raymond Carver struggled with alcohol for years too.
In late 1977, he went to a dinner party with friends drank a glass of wine and blacked out.
The next thing he remembered was standing outside a store the following morning waiting for it to open so he could buy a bottle of vodka.
Then, he attended a meeting with an editor who wanted to buy his book; Carver was both drunk and hungover.
It was enough of a low for Carver to finally find a better way to live with his pain. He told the Paris Review about his decision to quit drinking:
“I stayed drunk for a couple more days. And then I woke up, feeling terrible, but I didn’t drink anything that morning. Nothing alcoholic, I mean. I felt terrible physically — mentally, too, of course — but I didn’t drink anything. I didn’t drink for three days, and when the third day had passed, I began to feel some better. en I just kept not drinking. Gradually I began to put a little distance between myself and the booze. A week. Two weeks. Suddenly it was a month. I’d been sober for a month, and I was slowly starting to get well.”
Which brings us nicely to…
Charles Dickens was another prolific walker, often putting in 20 miles in a single day. There was a man who could have done with a pair of trainers.
The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote early in the morning before setting off for an afternoon walk around Copenhagen. Then, he returned to write in the evening.
Virginia Woolf too wrote long essays about her walks saying: “. . . to walk alone in London is the greatest rest.”
Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami trains for and runs at least one marathon a year. Being a classic introvert, he also goes out of his way to spend time alone. He’s not ashamed of his habits either and says,
“I’ve always done whatever I felt like doing in life. People may try to stop me, and convince me I’m wrong, but I won’t change.”
Mark Twain carried a pocket notebook with him for his ideas.
Thomas Jefferson jotted down notes about everything from the growth of plants and flowers to observations about daily life.
Even George Lucas keeps a notebook with him when he’s shooting a film.
My favourite story about a writer who made it a point to write things down involves the children’s author, Roald Dahl.
One day, Dahl found himself stuck in traffic. Suddenly, he thought of a breakthrough for a story he was working on. Having no notepad or pen, he grew afraid he’d forget his idea before getting home.
So, Dahl got out of the car and with his finger, he wrote the word ‘chocolate’ into the dirt on his vehicle. This idea later became Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Dahl said about his ideas:
“You work it out and play around with it. You doodle… you make notes… it grows, it grows…”
The Path Ahead
Habits aside, becoming a successful writer doesn’t mean discovering a great secret.
Walk the path of the literary betters who came before you.
Do what they do on the page (and not in bar), and you’ll discover how they work.
Then, you’ll be able to use this new insight into your creative life to improve the quality of your writing and strike out on your own.