Writers and Drinking: The Myth of Creative Synergy

The author and commentator Christopher Hitchens died a couple of months ago, provoking an outpouring of sympathetic praise from his many admirers, especially among the intelligentsia, where he loomed large, respected for his outspokenness and razor-sharp mind and debating skills.

But in addition to his writing and speaking on subjects of intense current interest, Hitchens was a drinker. Another respected author, Katha Pollit, wrote of this in The Nation magazine. In commenting on his death, she wrote words that surely apply to many, many of the writers and artists who seem to believe that alcohol is an important part of what makes them creative. She wrote:

His drinking was not something to admire, and it was not a charming foible. Maybe sometimes it made him warm and expansive, but I never saw that side of it. What I saw was that drinking made him angry and combative and bullying… Drinking didn’t make him a better writer either–that’s another myth. Christopher was such a practiced hand, with a style that was so patented, so integrally an expression of his personality, he was so sure he was right about whatever the subject, he could meet his deadlines even when he was totally sozzled. But those passages of pointless linguistic pirouetting? The arguments that don’t track if you look beneath the bravura phrasing? Forgive the cliche: That was the booze talking…. It makes me sad to see young writers cherishing their drinking bouts with him, and even his alcohol-fuelled displays of contempt for them… as if drink is what makes a great writer, and what makes a great writer a real man.

The description, with some modifications, applies to many, many drug and alcohol abusers.


  1. Justine on January 28, 2013 at 5:25 am

    It’s really nice to read the comment of Katha Pollit about the behavior of a real writer. It’s not about the drinking.

  2. JeffK on February 10, 2012 at 6:51 pm

    Interesting description, and I think it does apply much more broadly than just to writers.