You Can Also Write When You’re Sober

Image credit: Aly Gulamhusein

One of my biggest reservations about quitting drinking was that I thought I wouldn’t be able to write. Alcohol lubricated my fingers as they swept over the keyboard, typing out what was flowing from my head. Sometimes it was a breached dam and other times it was a gentle, meandering creek. Whichever it was, alcohol was my canoe.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, me not writing while sober. I said that I wouldn’t be able to write so I don’t write. When I want to write, I can’t because I said that I won’t be able to. If I do manage to churn something out, it is in spite of not having had a drink.

The problem with being sober is that you have a lot more options for things to do. When drinking, you’re somewhat limited. Writing was something that I did while drinking because it’s something that can be done while drinking. How well it’s done is another matter. When you’re sober, however, you can go for an evening drive, sit still long enough to watch a movie, or read a book. But, and it’s crucial to remember this, you can also write.

It’s the romantic in us who wants to believe that writers drink bourbon and light it with cigarette smoke in their throats, breathing out fire onto an empty page, charring ink into words. Alcohol inhibits our restraint, unfettering our emotions. Because we feel more when we drink, it’s easy to think that the power of well-written words can only come from a place of emotive turbulence.

In truth, it’s easier to write when you’re drinking for the same reason you talk so much more than you should: you stop giving a shit. Writing needs to be done by someone who cares more about the message told than the words used. It’s hard to focus on the big picture when you’ve had more than a pint, so you start thinking just one step ahead. You start looking too closely at the words.

It’s incredibly satisfying. After a night at the keyboard, you can see words filling two, three, and sometimes four or more pages. When you read them through, they are cohesive and poetic. You’ve done good.

But, I’ve never been able to write anything that takes more than a night to finish. The gap between the nights spent writing is too wide for me to bridge. Oftentimes, I can’t remember where I left off or the direction I was heading so I start again. Each night was a renewal, accompanied by liquid refreshments.

In my notebooks, there are too many collections of short pieces that satisfied me for only one night.

Learning how to write something that takes longer than a night to finish is now my challenge. Being able to carry through a vision of something grander and more encompassing is a skill I don’t have. I don’t even know what it’s like to remember what I wrote last week, or even yesterday, and continue on with it today.

Writing is now something that I can choose to do instead of so many other things. It requires more of a sacrifice and will receive more of my attention. It’s more difficult now because my vision is clearer, my fingers are a bit more jittery, and my thoughts are tamed by a breakwater.

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