Sunday, October 2, 2016

On Creativity

I've been clean and sober for a year now.

I don't feel anything different but I am different now. I can tell, first of all, from my bank account. I have scads more money and I have more room in my kitchen cabinets. My rear end doesn't hurt from sitting the hard benches at my neighborhood bar and I saw my bartender on the street the other day and she said that she missed me and is proud of me.

What has this got to do with writing you may ask? Because I honestly believed that my creativity came from the bottle and not from me. Yeah, like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Dorothy Parker, Charles Bukowski and many of you out there, and you know who you are, you're under the impression that a glass of wine, a shot of scotch, a belt of bourbon will help grease the wheels of your creativity. I used to think that.

I try to write to please my fans now, and you out there that are trying to do the same are probably as insecure as I am about your next book. How will your newborn child fare when you release it out into the world? Will it be accepted with open arms? Will it flop? So you want it to be the best you can make it. You grouse, you grope, you worry and you fear and so you reach for the muse that will help you make your work the epitome of creativity. There is a light in you that can flare and burn with a uniqueness unparalleled. All you have to do is ignite it.

I used to think the same.

Someone else thought like I did, and he had something to say about it:

"Yet the part of me that writes the stories, the deep part that knew I was an alcoholic as early as 1975 when I wrote The Shining, would accept that. Silence isn't what that part is about. It began to scream for help in the only way it knew how, through my fiction and through my monsters."
- Stephen King
On Writing

Mr. King became addicted to drinking and drugs and remained a writer until he broke the habit. He found himself in the pull of "an ugly downward spiral" that threatened to crash him upon the rocks of adversity. And he continued to write through it. In the end, I have come to the same conclusion that he had:

" At the worse of it I no longer wanted to drink and no longer wanted to be sober, either. I felt evicted from life. At the start of the road back I just tried to believe the people who said that things would get better if I gave them time to do so. And I never stopped writing. Some of the stuff that came out was tentative and flat, but at least it was there. I buried those unhappy, lackluster pages in the bottom drawer of my desk and got on to the next project. Little by little I found the beat again, and after that, I found the joy again. I came back to my family with gratitude, and back to my work with relief - I came back to it the way folks come back to a summer cottage after a long winter, checking first to make sure nothing has been stolen or broken during the cold season. Nothing had been. It was still all there, still all whole. Once the pipes were thawed out and the electricity was turned back on, everything worked fine."
- Stephen King
On Writing

I used to believe that my drinking was my source, my wellspring from which all of my ideas and creativity sprung fully and full formed. I believed that I was only creative when I was drinking, or at best, that my creativity was unique once I was under the table. My reasons for stopping was not based on my writing, but because of my health. I had a small, insignificant crisis that frightened the shit out of me, but I held onto the bottle because of my fears that my writing would suffer greatly. I was at that pivot point where Mr. King speaks of where he no longer wanted to be drunk, but then again he no longer wanted to be sober. For me, sobriety was an illness that needed medicating. But alcoholism and that was what it was, was a burden on the body. I was in pain on both sides of the table, and my excuse was that my creativity, my books, my little reputation that I had as a writer, my chances of becoming a nationally recognized author, would be greatly affected if I stopped drinking. 

You see, I had great a dependency on alcohol and writing was my excuse.

I feared for my creativity. And so it goes, with all things, it had to come to an end. I had to stop drinking, and if it meant killing the golden goose, then so be it. My greatest love, which is writing, would have to be shorn away and I would have to deal with what was left. Whatever failures that I would have to face, after doing away with my ally would have to be dealt with.

And then a year passed, and almost immediately after I had my last drink did the germ for a novel hit me. A novel that would be an epic. A novel that would demand the greatest challenge, the greatest strength, the greatest creativity that I could devote to it. I would have to give it my all. There would be no part of me reserved from this task, and sober as a judge, I set upon it.

I ordered books, I started online subscriptions to newspapers and archives. I did the same with magazines and websites. I began the task of absorbing data from all sources to make this epic and I did so soberly. And then I began to write it. I began to piece it together, bit by bit, yard by yard, toothpick by toothpick, grain of sand by grain of sand until it began to take monstrous shape. I have more to say about this book of mine in later posts and I have an explanation for the lapse in my posting, all to be done later but for now, I have one thing to say on does not come from alcohol. It comes from you. You are your own source. Your lives, your experiences, your outlook and training all make up the person that you are, and only you, YOU can create the stories that you make. There is no bottle of booze that can and will do that for you. I'm not condemning the social use of alcohol, I'm not. But my drinking was not on the social level.

I remember drinking and writing until I passed out at my chair, before my laptop. Then waking the next morning, cramping and aching and standing to stretch my knotted muscles and creaky bones, only to go to the liquor cabinet, pull out another bottle and begin drinking once more before putting my fingers to the keys. I've written entire chapters of my book and then have gone back to read it again months later and it felt as if it was written by someone else. This is a phenomenon that I've heard many writers have experienced, but I not only don't recognize the style but the framework, the very reason why the story went in that direction. I didn't remember the story itself. Or mainly, the reason why the story went the way it did. Not only the style but the story. Can you understand the gravity of that? That's writing in a complete blackout. That's not social drinking, and it all started with that little glass of wine that I sipped on for creativity.

It's a slippery slope that is unnecessary, and I say that honestly. Use music to relax. Use sleep to grow alert. Use exercise to enervate yourself. Use sex for excitement. And trust yourself for your creativity.

Because, if you start using alcohol to write, as ancient maps and Stephen King will tell you, "beyond this point, they be monsters."

Keep writing.