The List Universe has, among many other lists, picked out 15 great alcoholics, who also happened to be writers. The list includes Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson, and, of course, Ernest Hemingway. Dorothy Parker is the only woman, but perhaps that’s a reflection of history’s attitude to women writers. Or maybe Austen and the Brontes’ were just better at acting sober.

It’s funny how writing and alcohol abuse seem (sometimes!) to go hand in hand. The mind-expanding, tongue-loosening, writer’s-block-unblocking properties of alcohol have been written on elsewhere, but this list reminded me of the relationship between good writing and unhappiness. I’m thinking of alcohol as the great self-medicator, for depressives everywhere.

Great works so often seem to come from a place of wretchedness, of striving, searching and trying hard for something more. You don’t feel the urge to try so hard when you’re happy. Being completely at peace with the world is usually antithetical to the kind of impassioned, subversive, even antagonistic writing so often classed as ‘great’.

Not that every writer should develop a drink problem to improve their writing. Just the opposite: I need to concentrate just to hold a glass when I’ve had a few, so who knows how these literary mavens managed to hold a pen or operate a typewriter once they got sauced.

But blind happiness probably isn’t that helpful if you’re trying to write an opus full of the kind of passion that makes a book memorable, as opposed to the indifferent drek available in bookstores. Take a break and watch the news. Go online and look up animal cruelty, or child trafficking. Find something that makes you passionately angry, or just passionate, and go back to your computer determined to write something that will change someone’s mind.


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