Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

However Much I Booze

I’m feeling very frustrated at the moment. Not with my writing in general. Since coming back from last week’s trip, I’ve been able to get back into the groove on Parallel Lives and make some more headway. I also think I’ve gotten a tweak to the late part of the story to make, one that I’m rather excited about. I think it will strengthen the story quite a bit.

No, the thing that’s bugging me right now is today’s blog post. I’ve been writing it for more than a week, and getting nowhere. So, I’ve decided to largely-scrap the extensively-researched post I’ve been working on and go off the reservation a bit. My apologies in advance. The first paragraph that follows is scripted. Everything else is somewhat stream-of-consciousness, which is a style I don’t like for my posts. The thing is, I need to get it out of my head. SO, here goes:

When I posted last week’s music video, I poked around Florence + the Machine’s website, hoping to find out that they were touring. Alas, they’ve finished their US tour, and didn’t come anywhere near my area. I’ll just have to wait until next time (and maybe they’ll be more affordable than the last concert I went to. I hate TicketMaster). While I cyberstalked err, read Florence’s ‘About me‘ section, I came across the following tidbit:

Florence writes her best songs when she is drunk or has a hangover, because that’s when the freedom, the feral music comes….

This disturbed me on a couple of different levels.

First, given the recent death of Amy Winehouse and her well-chronicled battles with the bottle, not to mention the extensive list of rock and rollers who ruined their careers or ended their lives due to substance abuse, it concerns me that young Florence might find herself traveling down that same path. She has a gift when it comes to constructing songs, a unique musical sound, and a lovely voice. As a fan, it would be a shame to lose that from the world.

I may be misunderstanding what I’m reading. When I was Florence’s age (she’s almost 25), I drank a lot. I was never an alcoholic, never needed any ‘A.M. Ale‘ to start my day right, or a nightcap or two to get me to sleep. I didn’t generally drink my lunch, or with my lunch, or even have a beer at dinner. But I went out a lot with my friends, and that usually involved bars and massive quantities of beer.

It also involved a lot of foolish bravado when it came to drinking. There are a lot of pictures of me in the years between 18 and 25 where I’m holding a beer in a prominent location, as if to say “Look at me! I’m cool! I drink!” and I admit I took a certain pride when my friends told me that, ‘pound-for-pound, JeffO is the biggest rumball in the Crew.’ Maybe that’s all we’re seeing here with Florence Welch. Maybe she’s just adopted a particular lifestyle and is proudly displaying it. Maybe, when she grows up a little bit, she’ll look back at a claim like that and think “What was I thinking?” Hopefully, she won’t have done any permanent damage to herself or others before then.

The second thing that disturbed me in Florence’s bio is the notion that creativity is best-achieved when drunk.

I spent a lot of my late teens and early- to mid-twenties in a state of inebriation, and I can say that, for me, I never did anything ‘best’ when drunk. Unless you count horribly off-key karaoke; wailing in misery about my lack of love life; duck-walking, Chuck Berry style through a bar to the song ‘Beat it on Down the Line’; or vomiting on the side of the road. I did those things great.

It’s easy to see where you could get the idea that alcohol frees the muse. Alcohol is a depressant. It relaxes the body. A drink or two loosens inhibitions. So, maybe it frees things up a little. I read a blog post where the author suggests that writing is the most self-revealing of the arts; an author puts herself up for examination to a far great extent than the other creative arts. In this view, booze allows the author to expose herself to others.

I can see this point of view, but I know for me the problem isn’t in writing it down, it’s the sharing. Maybe when I shop out my work to others I’ll need a couple of shots under my belt before handing it over, or hitting ‘send e-mail’ to an agent. God forbid if I ever get published and have to do a public reading. Then it will be time for some Hennigan’s.

I really don’t mean to make light of this; alcohol abuse is a serious problem. Are writers really more prone to alcoholism than CPA’s or teachers or stevedores, or is it just the perception due to the self-destruction of some famous authors? Does alcohol really help some people write, or is there something else behind it? Creative artists tend to have a lot going on upstairs. Maybe, as another blogger suggested, booze is just a way to quiet the voices down so they can actually create.

My apologies for this rambling wreck of a post. Have a pleasant weekend, all.

7 Responses

  1. Interesting post. I know there are many who feel the need to "enhance" their work with chemicals. But as you mention, there are serious traps there.

  2. I don't think this was a wreck. I think you make some great points here. I once read about an author who would have one drink to "loosen up" before writing. I think his idea was that if he were in a social situation, he might have a drink to loosen up, become more sociable, more talkative and he was applying that to his writing. I'm allergic to alcohol now so I don't have any issues with this–I don't feel the need to drink in order to write since I can't. Before I became allergic I would frequently drink some wine before or as I was sitting down to write but I don't believe at all that it enhanced my writing. It was more to relax my racing thoughts but I don't think it affected my writing one way or the other (especially since I was always sober when I edited!). I can, however, see that others might feel that way about their own work. I think this is an interesting subject and yes, substance abuse is very serious.

  3. Thanks for the comments, everyone. My problem with this post, I think, was that I got to a point where I couldn't keep it in my head anymore, even though I didn't feel like I got the words quite right. I'll usually just shelve something when that happens, but not this time. Now that it's committed to cyber-paper, maybe I'll be able to stew on it a bit and come back to the topic in a more organized and coherent way.

  4. I don't think this was a wreck at all. I think it was a great post. I drink very little, so using alcohol to write has always seemed strange to me. I'd never thought of the aspect of relaxing from social anxiety before, but I can understand that. I hated public speaking and writing anything personal all through school, and it's still a challenge. I remember being in my high school creative writing class, though, and learning about one new famous author every day. I was pretty shocked at the way so many famous writers' lives turned out (not just with substance abuse, but also with insanity, misery, and death). It actually got to be something of a running joke with the other writing students because here we were, wanting to join them. I was always curious of which came first, the misery or the genius.

  5. >I was always curious of which came first, the misery or the genius.
    Hmm. There's that old phrase 'It's a fine line between genius and insanity.' In looking up some information for the post I found there's some evidence that highly-creative people (which doesn't just include the arts, but also includes brilliant thinkers like Einstein) have brain patterns very similar to schizophrenics and/or people with bipolar disorder. I should probably go and confirm that before stating it here. But it would seem the two may go hand-in-hand — for some people. Thank you for your comments.

  6. You wrote interesting post. I must say, your worry is not for zero. I mean you have a good reason to worry about that. I know something about 'harming others' with alcohol, and like you, I hope F doesn't do it.

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