Writing is Like Mixing a Drink

Fill my glass!

Mixing a drink is seductive in a way writing will never be. The ice sweating in the glass. The chucka, chucka of the metal shaker growing cold in your hands. The invisible melding going on inside that shaker, alcohols blending to become something all together new. The nifty garnishes: olives, citrus, and cherries, twisted, spiked, and macerated into enticing little flourishes to top off your creation. That first effervescent sip biting your tongue and lips, settling warmly into your stomach.

Before I met my husband, I wasn’t much of a cocktail drinker, but it’s a big tradition in his family and one that I’ve grown to enjoy (not to excess; that’s a different post). All of the preparation and care it takes to make a proper Manhattan or a dry martini make me take my drink more seriously. This isn’t popping the top on a beer can or pulling the cork from a wine bottle. There is ceremony. There is attention paid.

I wish I could say that I engage in quite the same care and ceremony when I sit down at my desk to write.

I’ve written on a computer too long to have patience for fountain pens or pads, though I admire writers who do and often think that their first drafts must be clearer and more deliberate that my own, which are more easily and instantly revised, cut-and-pasted into some kind of coherence.  Maybe mess is preferable. I wonder if there are spaces on the page, in the smudges of ink, that allow for possibilities unavailable in the upright fonts and clean lines of my computer screen. Or maybe I’m just romanticizing a different method of writing because no matter how you do it, it’s hard work.

If you do work hard and focus, hopefully an alchemy similar to the one going on in that cocktail shaker will take place in your head. There will be fewer ice cubes and aromatics, but the same possibility for transcendence. When my writing is going well, the characters start to move on their own, mixing in ways I hadn’t envisioned at first. The plot comes together, melding like alcohol and mixer, heading off in a different direction from the one I’d planned. There’s a mystery to this process that makes it hard to explain, a transcendence that occurs when I forget that I’m writing and am carried along on the story. I feel like Fred Flinstone, feet scrambling beneath him to get the car going and then, suddenly, it’s going on its own. The story is happening in my head, sure, but I can’t honestly say I’m in control of it. If I’m concentrating well enough, focused for long enough, the elements I’ve put on the page take on new life.  Through stillness, rather than shaking, a cocktail of fiction is born.

Mind you, I’m not advising mixing writing and drinking, even if Christopher Hitchens begged to differ. Hemingway and Faulkner, God love them, got away with it, but in my experience the only thing gained when writing while inebriated is confusion (and spelling errors).  Drinking and writing are over-romanticized companions. Writing well requires more clarity, rigor and vision, not less. It involves getting closer to uncomfortable truths about ourselves and the world, not anesthetizing ourselves against them. If you find yourself craving a drink to dull the pain while you’re writing, you’re on the right track. But I’d recommend resisting the urge. Save the cocktail for later, when you’ve put down the pen.

*

Classic Manhattan

  • 2 oz. Temptation bourbon (or my husband’s preference, Redemption rye)
  • 3/4 oz. Antiqua vermouth
  • 3 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1 Luxardo cherry

Shake over ice and strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice. Garnish with Luxardo cherry.

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About Caitlin O'Neil

Caitlin O'Neil is a full time lecturer in English at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Her short fiction has appeared in the Beloit Fiction Journal, Faultline, Drunken Boat, and Bridge Stories and Ideas. She won the 2013 Ninth Letter Prize in Fiction, the 2012 Women Who Write International Short Prose Contest, and received a 2012 Massachusetts Cultural Council individual artist grant. She has been a resident at Community of Writers at Squaw Valley and the Vermont Studio Center.
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3 Responses to Writing is Like Mixing a Drink

  1. As a bartender at a high volume sports bar and a writer, I found this article one of the highlights of my day. Though I’ve never thought of a direct connection, I have seen similarities. After a long day of writing, thinking, planning, revising, I’m exhausted. And, after twelve hours on my feet slinging drinks and burgers, I’m exhausted as well. Both create a rush that I can’t imagine any drug beating, the high you mention when the writing takes over. And I definitely agree, always save the cocktails for after, when the writing (or bartending) is done.

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