What drives writers to drink? -Article on the Guardian

Tennessee Williams, F Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Cheever, Carver, Berryman… Six giants of American literature – and all addicted to alcohol. In an edited extract from her new book, The Trip to Echo Spring, Olivia Laing looks at the link between writers and the bottle

In the small hours of 25 February 1983, the playwright Tennessee Williams died in his suite at the Elysée, a small, pleasant hotel on the outskirts of the Theatre District in New York City. He was 71: unhappy, a little underweight, addicted to drugs and alcohol and paranoid sometimes to the point of delirium. According to the coroner’s report, he’d choked on the bell-shaped plastic cap of a bottle of eyedrops, which he was in the habit of placing on or under his tongue while he administered to his vision.

The next day, the New York Times ran an obituary claiming him as “the most important American playwright after Eugene O’Neill”, though it had been two decades since his last successful play. It listed his three Pulitzer prizes, for A Streetcar Named DesireCat on a Hot Tin Roof and Night of the Iguana, adding: “He wrote with deep sympathy and expansive humour about outcasts in our society. Though his images were often violent, he was a poet of the human heart.”

He was also a kind, generous, hard-working man, who rose at dawn almost every morning of his life, sitting down at his typewriter with a cup of black coffee to produce what would amount to well over 100 short stories and plays. At the same time, he was a lonely, depressed alcoholic who managed by degrees to isolate himself from almost everyone he loved. A sample entry from his diary in 1957 reads: “Two Scotches at bar. 3 drinks in morning. A daiquiri at Dirty Dick’s, 3 glasses of red wine at lunch and 3 of wine at dinner. Also two seconals so far, and a green tranquillizer whose name I do not know and a yellow one I think is called reserpine or something like that” – an itemisation made more troubling by the fact that he was in rehab at the time.

Things got worse in 1963, when Williams’s long-term partner Frank Merlo, nicknamed the Little Horse, died of lung cancer. After that, he was far gone and out, barely perpendicular against the current, buoyed on a diet of coffee, liquor, barbiturates and speed. Hardly any wonder he found speech difficult, or kept toppling over in bars, theatres and hotels. Each year he put on a new play, and each year it failed, rarely lasting a month before it closed.

Read more here

Some Thoughts

Charles Bukowski wrote quite eloquently:

Take a writer away from his typewriter
And all you have left
the sickness
which started him
in the

I have always felt that there was a correlation not so much between writing and alcoholism but between that inner sickness and aberrant ways of self-medicating.  I have had the chance of getting to know a descent number of alcoholics, had my fair share of issues with alcohol as has my lady and one thing I’ve seen is that alcohol is like a medicine used to suppress the pain or angst of a condition they mostly never talk about.  Writing and drinking are both forms of self-medicating. But I’m curious about what you think about this?



  1. I am with Bukowski on this one, I think there is a connection between illness, mental health and authors. I think they start writing to help them overcome this illness, then they turn to drink or drugs.

    Another interesting angle is the connection authors have with suicide, Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, David Foster Wallace, John Kennedy Toole, Hunter S. Thompson, all killed themselves and that is just off the top of my head.


    • I am with you I have met many drunks who have told me that they have stopped drinking but never addressed the inner condition that got them started in the first place. I think the authors find some sort of release through writing but it isnt enough.
      That connection between writing and suicide is really shocking. It seems that the amazing writing ability comes with soem horrible ramifications


  2. I had originally wanted to comment on your beautifully written post “What It’s Like @ 32: Drinking and Growing Up” but I decided to do it here.

    It’s difficult for me to correlate writing with drinking. I personally believe its absence will do more good in the practice of a writer’s career. Because I have seen how alcohol ruined people’s lives and their memories or capacity to remember.

    You are already this bright and a brilliant writer – at only 32 years of age. What more when you reach your late 30s or my age, I wonder. There’s so much potential in you that others lack and never will have. Although I’m afraid your drinking might get in the way of all that, my friend.

    Going over your previous posts is like getting to know and appreciating (Dave and) MrMary’s writing all over again. Maybe my reading aptitude has evolved that my mind is presently more conditioned for your kind of prose :-). You rarely use worn-out expressions and your style is something one won’t easily find around WPress. And please don’t misunderstand: I’m not praising you so that I’ll earn praises myself. It’s just how I am in the presence of exceptional bloggers, but you already know that.

    I hope you’re doing great, Dave. Best wishes.


    • Hey Marjie,

      How are you doing? It’s been nice to read your comments my dear.

      I have found that to write or to keep yourself open enough to allow words or images or some sort of art to be created from you is very taxing. I kind of feel that something in life has had to rip you open, and the art that comes out from that is one way to cope with past hurt as well as the pain of staying open in the moment. Sometimes I like drinking but I’ve never honestly been addicted to it. I go through times where I drink often then times when I don’t. Nowadays I enjoy it in company of Mrs. Mary or my friends, or even my parents too.

      I think that there is a lot of pain behind a large percentage of writing. I think also what’s difficult for me to wrap my head around is that writing is a business. I love to write. I believe that the love to write and the business side of writing are like oil and vinegar. I think alcohol definitely dulls one’s business acumen and willingness to venture into that whole business side of writing.

      Trust me, I’d never let drinking get in the way of my reaching my goals.

      Thanks for the compliments. it’s always been tough for me to accept compliments, because I don’t want it to get to my head and end up resting on my laurels. But I really want you to know that I appreciate all of them. I have been writing or trying to write well for a long time and it’s coming along. I’ve been making a lot of improvements even with blog writing. I looked over some past posts and it really got me thinking how things have changed it nice to see a progression.

      I try to keep things entertaining but also be true to myself and how I am in real life. Im hoping this year and enxt to be my year for publishing stuff. I was thinking of sharing the first chapter of my novel online here. You’ve been a real blessing to have as a reader. Not all the time I want to write and sometimes I imagine you or a handful of people I know who read this and the worlds just start to flow. I think the best is yet to come, knock on wood:-)

      Thanks so much for your comments and for your caring 🙂


      • It’s good to know you are taking steps to achieve your writing goals. You’ve already completed penning a novel? Wow. That’s awesome. How come you never told me before. I look forward to reading it, Dave.

        That’s the thing about me. When someone does his art well, it’s hard for me not to let the writer know how amazing he or she is. I used to have only 4 best bloggers on my list (one of them – you). I am picky, you know :-). Only 2 have been consistent (again, one of them – you) in posting. You know how things fell out between me and the other one. Now, only your blog is keeping me glued to WPress as I’m having the hardest time finding other blogs that are on par with yours.

        But if ever you get burned out by this blogging thing, take time out, by all means. I can go retro (what with nearly 1,500 of your posts here :-)) and wait. You’ll be coming back, for sure, because you are a genuine writer.

        The best is yet to come from MrMary and that he’d never let drinking get in the way of reaching his goals. I’m really glad to hear that, Dave.

        Take good care, my friend. Happy weekend!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s