Writing 101: Authors and Substance Abuse

"Write drunk, edit sober."

 – Ernest Hemingway

I giggled when I first saw that quote from Hemingway. I stopped smiling when I remembered that alcoholism eventually destroyed him...and lots of other great authors. When it comes to authors and substance abuse, this profession seems to have more than its fair share of drunks. And no matter how amazing these addicted authors are or were, no one should attempt to follow their soggy footsteps. 

Losing the Battle

Start looking for authors who spent too much time looking at the bottom of a bottle, and you're going to find them. Hemingway battled alcoholism (and lost) for much of his life. He eventually took his own life despite his success and fame. Edgar Allen Poe, often regarded as the master of modern horror, had a serious alcohol problem. He died mysteriously, and the substance abuse definitely didn't help to prevent his untimely demise.
Hunter S. Thompson was famously an addict. You can see something of what his life was like in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. There was probably no drug he did not try, and one day he shot himself in the head with a gun. Is the substance abuse linked to the suicide? Fans can only speculate, but going though the highs and lows of drug use surely did not help him with any emotional problems he may or may not have been experiencing.

Playwright Tennessee Williams, famous for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and a whole host of other stories, also had issues with alcohol. Even Stephen King indulged, and things got so bad his friends and family staged an intervention to bring him back from the brink of substance abuse.

Authors and substance abuse have been linked a lot throughout history, and it's not a pattern that should be repeated. All due respect to Hemingway, but writing drunk or otherwise compromised is never a good idea. You're likely to spit out a bunch of words and plot that make no sense, and wading through that nonsense later will be a huge headache. Always write clear-headed. It's fine to indulge in a little alcohol with friends during a special event, but if you feel that you need to drink on a daily basis then you have a problem. Please get help for it. There is lots of help available.

Many of the authors who suffered from substance abuse died with very little money or happiness, often all alone, in very undignified ways. You don't want to leave that sort of legacy behind, to be a sad footnote in someone's blog post, to spend your talent swimming around inside of a whiskey bottle. Authors may turn to substances in order to combat the loneliness and the strong emotions that come with the job, but there are better ways to cope. Substance abuse will destroy you in the end, just as it destroyed so many other talented writers.

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  1. I completely agree, and I'm very thankful that my writing has never been accompanied by substance abuse.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Audra! Love your name, by the way.