The Protagonist: Do Writers Still Need to Drink and Take Pills?

Written by Alissa Fleck on . Posted in NY Press Exclusive.


799px-Alcohol_bottles_photographed_while_drunkIntoxicating substances used to go hand in hand with creative writing. Is it time for a change?

A few weeks into my creative writing MFA, a bunch of us new writers were sitting around a cramped table at one of New York City’s staple “writerly” bars. It was never one of my favorites to be honest—the prices are high, the seating limited or nonexistent and the waitstaff generally hostile toward the writers who overrun the place, with the exception of our favorite bartender who knew every writer in the program by name after only a day and often snuck us drinks on the house. I’m sure for years our loyalty helped keep the place in business.

Still I never felt that magnetic attachment to the place others did; it invariably made me anxious, most conversations (on my part) beginning, “Man, this place is really not conducive to conversation, huh.” Mere “conversation” was rarely the point, though.

“So …” said one girl, breaking the ice. “Favorite drug. Ready, go!”

“Opium.” “Ecstasy.” “Probably … blow.”

They kept rattling them off with ease.

“That would be my vibrator,” said one self-professed “Sober Sally.”

A couple writers, myself most likely included, seemed to scoff into their beers.

It’s no shocking revelation that for a long time writing, drinking and taking drugs have gone hand in hand. Often the very culture around writing seems more defined by this lifestyle than anything else. On more than one occasion throughout my MFA, events were attended simply for the open bar, others abandoned in favor of the closest bar. “Writing meetings” quickly devolved into 4 a.m. drinking competitions, and some classes were “drinking classes,” the professor occasionally most intoxicated of all. I have to admit, I didn’t always mind.

Every year, the creative writing community nationwide descends on one major U.S. city for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference. While there is certainly valuable information to be gleaned at AWP and good networking to be done, there’s no denying that for many it’s an excuse to spend three days drunk in a hotel room with friends under the guise of literariness.

This year, however, with AWP rapidly approaching, something a little different is happening. This year there is Sober AWP, public, to my knowledge, for the very first time. “Anyone in recovery from anything is welcome,” notes the recurring, bare-bones event description on AWP’s events calendar.

As someone who has been enabled in the past, and done my fair share of enabling, I may have at some point laughed off Sober AWP (“that’s not the point!”) or at the very least overlooked it. Now, one year out of my MFA and much further along in life, I applaud it; I’m proud to see it exists.

More so, I’m impressed the event description does not play Sober AWP off as the “most amazing time ever.” It does not try to compete with all the other debauched festivities, but rather calls it what it is: daily meetings for sober writers.

The creative writing culture will never lose its emphasis on getting obliterated, and for many that’s just fine. While it can be extremely hard for sober people to merely coexist alongside those who are actively not sober, hopefully others in the national literary community will in some way follow suit in the future, and help carve out that place for sober writers that isn’t always behind closed doors.

 

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