Wednesday, April 7, 2010

When You Find Yourself in Times of Trouble...Alcohol, Drinking and the Siren Song

Part One

When the Little Ones gather around Thriller Guys' knees, book proposals and sample chapters clutched in their tiny fists, one of their oft repeated questions is, “Tell us, TG, what do you do when you come face to face with one of any number of writing problems such as conjuring up with a new idea for a book, solving a particularly thorny plot problem, figuring out how a book is going to end, or thinking up a great title?” Well, Little Ones, after 30 years in the business TG is no stranger to any and all of these difficulties, and more, plenty more. When these questions rear their ugly heads, TG turns to that Well of Inspiration, the Healing Waters of Creation, his Constant Companion, the Writer's Best Friend:


“Why gin, sir? Why not scotch or good burbon whisky?”

Because it's cheap, Little Ones, and it gets the job done. Thriller Guy has lots of problems, not just writing difficulties, and sometimes these problems require large quantities of alcohol for their solution. TG has lots of writer friends and all of them drink and most of them drink too much, though that particular category gets a little fuzzy, especially after a few hours in one's favorite watering hole. The old cliché of the tortured writer as a drunk has been around for millennia for good reason, or rather a number of very good reasons. Let TG explain the pleasures, percentages and pitfalls of alcohol and how you can use its amazing qualities to further your writing career.

Some poor reasons writers drink:

Writers drink to ease the pain of life. Sorry, TG thinks that's a crappy excuse. TG has never been one to find that getting drunk ever made his general life existence any better. And it never allowed him to forget, even while in his cups, that his advances were too low, he was driving a beat-up car, the next tuition payment was coming up and the nineteenth publisher just turned down his latest novel. If you drink to wipe such difficulties from your mind, you're probably already a drunk or on your way to being one and TG can't help you. We have to put that reason up on the Alcohol Abuse shelf.

Writers are Creative Types, more susceptible to the slings and arrows of normal existence and need the numbing effects of alcohol to ease what normal folk endure without complaint. Please, writers are certainly creative, but it's just this sort of mollycoddling that produces all that precious writing from effete types who can never finish a novel, who refer to their work as their “craft” and who are forever yammering on and on about the “joys” of writing. TG says shut your pie holes and get to work like the rest of us real writers. Or go get drunk, but do it on the other side of the barroom because TG does not want to hear your pitiful mewlings.

On the other hand, some pretty good reasons writers drink:

Writers like to get together to bitch about the Writing Life. Misery loves company. In the course of these sessions, after a certain level of inebriation has been reached, a number of Great Ideas will be hatched, scribbled down on bar napkins and coasters. The next day these notes will reveal valuable ideas that can be mined for new books. Not. (As the kids used to say.) It hardly ever turns out any of the ideas are worth anything, even if you can decipher them. Bar ideas are just that, best hatched in the bar and left unrecorded. Better to fondly half remember the next day what was surely a fabulous million dollar idea than actually see written down what, in the cold harsh light of day, would never work in a million years and would take far too much effort anyway.

Congratulations, you've just made it through another day of writing. After a hard day of putting fingers to keyboard and cranking out an honest number of pages (at least two, five is better) it feels good to open up a bottle of the good stuff and have a satisfying, congratulatory tipple. Most regular people will never understand why this seemingly small output for such painful amount of labor amounts to anything in the real world, and it probably doesn't, but sometimes the work is good and no amount of gainsaying and ridicule will change that fact. Go ahead, have a drink of the good stuff. Your family may not understand, but we, your fellow scribes, do. Cheers.

Go ahead, you deserve it. Let's say you've just spent, oh, maybe a year writing a crafty thriller that's ripped from todays' headlines, one that your wife and friends agree could be your big breakthrough. You've sent it off to a publisher, or rather your agent has and after a couple of months you receive that classic reply, “We think this is an excellent story, and that (fill in your name) is a whale of a storyteller, but it just isn't quite right for us. We have no doubt that you will easily place it elsewhere.” Translation: It sucks. Time to hit the gin bottle! Go ahead, brother. You won't give up. The book will go somewhere new, continue to make its rounds, but TG understands your pain. Drink up.

Some really good reasons writers drink:

It seems that TG has run out of room in this installment. Stay tuned for Part Two, when TG will explain how to harness the powers of Gin or other spirits for the good of your writing, unveil the name of the Best Really Cheap Gin in the World, and put up the recipe for his own invention, The Gin Salad: A healthful meal in a glass.

TG would really be remiss if he didn't tack on a health advisory to the entry: Beware the seductive qualities of alcohol. Addiction has ridden far better writers than TG into the hell of alcoholism.

On that note, here's a Margaret Atwood poem titled Siren Song.


  1. Artists of top two illustrations?

  2. The illustrations are from the great Dover books, this is Food and Drink: A Pictorial Archive from Nineteenth Century Sources. Thriller Guy has an extensive collection of these books left over from a previous career as an illustrator and photographer. Unfortunately, the artists are not credited in the book.

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