Is addiction a necessary part of making art? Does creativity and madness go hand in hand? It’s a long debate but luckily I tested that theory many years ago and found that drinking and writing left me with illegible pages and next-day headaches that decimated any additional writing. All drinking did was make me sad that I wasn’t writing while fueling my fantasies that if life just gave me better breaks then surely—surely—I’d be a successful writer.
Last night I was preparing materials for a writing workshop that I’ll teach next month and I found this quote that made me laugh out loud:
“The only place you’re likely to find more alcoholics than an AA meeting is a writing program.” That’s from the editor Betsy Lerner in her book of advice for writers called, “The Forest for The Trees.”
Oh, I do know the truth of that. Many years into recovery and after learning that I could write by—get this—sitting down to write, I participated in a famous writing program where I did learn much about writing, and especially about building strength and habits. What I saw there also, quite sadly, was the enormous amount of alcohol and drugs that were false encouragement and false soothing for the genuine ache of creating art.
I am so glad that I was well into recovery when I faced that scene. And even with that I had moments of thinking that the cool kids—students and faculty—were all able to drink and I was sure I was missing something keen that kept me out of the “real writers” circle. But it seems that was not true at all.
We know the myth and the lie of suffering for creativity. Yes, making art of any kind is hard, and almost always lonely, but adding booze only increases the pain and kills the art.