My Archival Wanderings: Stephen King on drinking

Hi Writers,
You may be wondering how I’ve been choosing these daily excerpts I’ve been posting from the Writer’s Digest archives. Here’s how it happens: Brian (the Brain of Q&Q) spins me around and wherever I’m pointing at the end of my spinning is the year I choose from. It’s kind of like medieval divining or literary spin the bottle. But I digress…

Today’s exhibit: a wonderful, yet somewhat disturbing piece of ephemera circa 1978 (October). This is pulled from a feature called “Booze & the Writer.”

I’m not sure we could get away with doing this today: A questionnaire about the drinking habits of writers was sent out to a wide range of famous authors. Dozens of candid responses were featured in this piece, including responses from Erica Jong, Joyce Carol Oates, Norman Mailer, James A. Michener, Gay Talese and Michael Crichton among others.

This was Stephen King’s response [remember this is 1978]:
Drinking Habits: Somewhere in that great middle ground between medium and heavy. Beer. A lot of beer.

Hangouts: I drink mostly at home. When I’m in Boston, I drink at the Baseball Tavern across from Fenway Park. When I’m in New York, I like to go up to the top of the Beekman Tower. But mostly at home.

Drinking Companions: I like to drink alone. I never get ugly when I drink too much, I never bore myself with a lot of dull conversation, and I have never yet invited myself to step outside. Otherwise, I like to go drinking with my editor, Bill Thompson. He also never gets ugly, never wants to lay on a lot of boring raps, and has never invited me outside. Of course, he spent a lot of time down South and as a result drinks a lot of very strange drinks, but this is acceptable. After all, the Civil War has been over a long time.

On Writing and Drinking: Yes, there’s an affinity between drinking and writing. You can see the connection in the lives of Hemingway, Dylan Thomas, and William (“Don’t ask me what that sentence means, I wrote it when I was drunk”) Faulkner. I like to write when I’m drunk. I’ve never had any particular problem writing that way, although I never wrote anything that was worth a dime while under the influence of pot or any of the hallucinogenics. I think that alcohol is an extremely benign poison. I wrote one novel, The Shining, that was more or less about the terrors of living with the destructive drunk —and I have known one of two in my lifetime—but I have never been particularly destructive while under the influence myself. Writers who drink constantly do not last long, but a writer who drinks carefully is probably a better writer. It may be that the main effect of the grain or the grape on the creative personality is that necessary sense of newness and freshness, that feeling that the world of sense and feeling can be grasped. Those are feelings we tend to lose as we grow older. I know that as well as anyone, I think, because I’m only 30—and you tend to start losing that crazy and wonderful sense of cocksureness sometime around 25 … at about the same time that you discover that sex may not be the only possible definition of living. Viewed in that way, drinking is a crutch. But nobody gets through life without a crutch or two. And basically, writers are no different from anyone else. If I were a plumber, my drinking habits would probably be the same.

Fascinating. What do you think about the stereotype of the drinking writer?

Join me next Monday for my latest spin through the archives.

Keep Writing,

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12 thoughts on “My Archival Wanderings: Stephen King on drinking

  1. Tina K.

    Hi Maria,
    Interesting and somewhat witty! Although I have to say – I hate that "old idea" that to do some good work someone – any artist gets drunk to do so – false idea! Most people who drink and get drunk and do drugs are running away from something…. Now Mr. King doesn’t drink – good on him! Too many great artists destroyed their careers doing drugs and alcohol.
    Tina K.

  2. Kristan C.

    I was thinking the same thing as Mr. Ritchie. If he wrote that at 30, and seeing what has happened in the meantime … where does he stand now?

  3. Chris

    Wow. Wonder if he would have consented to that being published with today’s wisdom.

    I paint as well as write. Drinking has also been associated with artists. Wonder if I doomed?

  4. Helen Gallagher

    I guess the legend lives on. There is actually a group in Chicago called The Drinking & Writing Brewery. ( They have a radio show, A writing festival and a play by the same name. Their work is very witty and honors all the hungover writers of the past generation.

    Helen Gallagher

  5. Maria

    Hi Dawn,
    It’s not so much this particular excerpt–it’s the whole idea of this feature, which I have the advantage of having read in full–and perhaps "disturbing" isn’t exactly the right term. As I said, I’m not sure we could get away with running a feature like this in the magazine today, as it seems to perpetuate the stereotype of the drinking writer–of using alcohol as an aid to creativity. We live in different times. I believe it would be considered irresponsible from a journalistic standpoint to run this feature today.
    Sidenote: I’m snowed in my house and watching The Shining right now.

  6. Pam Hogeweide

    i just read king’s memoir On Writing a couple of weeks ago. He is an amazing master of the craft.

    Drinking and writing. I don’t really know about other writers, but now that you are asking the question I’m connecting some dots in my own life. I only started drinking on a regular basis in my forties…which is exactly the same time I begin to write with intention and get published. I have written buzzing comfortably under a drink or two many times. Beyond that I don’t usually want to write. I don’t know what it is about alcohol and the writing process, or if it is universal among artists. Maybe writers are prone to neurosis so we are therefore prone to addictions to cope with our neuroses.


  7. Candy

    This is fascinating. According to his book On Writing, Stephen King now abhors this old self. He also talks like such an old man …that stuff about losing that crazy and wonderful sense of cocksureness at 25!