from the Korean Army to being published

the blog of an "ex-patriot" writer in Korea

Entry #41: Writing Drunk

with 4 comments

When I think of writing as a career, I picture a poor man sitting in front of a typewriter, an ashtray full of cigarette butts burnt to the filter and a bottle of whisky or wine close at hand. This is just the picture in my mind and it may be an image I’ve created to justify my own behavior but history testifies that many great writers maintained a love affair with alcohol. My personal favorites include Charles Bukowski, Jack Kerouac, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway is quoted as once saying “Write drunk, edit sober.”

As I’ve mentioned many times before, I do most of my writing in the afternoons at a coffee shop. Although I’ve brought my flask along on a couple of occasions, I tend to keep my writing and drinking separate. This isn’t by choice. If I could find a bar that opens in the early afternoon with cheap beer, I wouldn’t be in a coffee shop surrounded by loud, obnoxious children. Unfortunately, there aren’t many people of the same mind and I can’t get any work done when I’m at home. I usually settle on frequenting a bar after the coffee shop, often substituting beer for dinner.

Yesterday, I had a day off because of the National Assembly elections and with my free time in the morning, I decided to try to get a sufficient buzz before heading out to the coffee shop. I prefer whisky or wine at home and whisky or beer at a bar but I had a half-finished bottle of Bombay Sapphire sitting on my dresser and tonic in the fridge, which rarely happens, and so I settled on gin and tonics before, during, and after lunch. At around 1:30, I downed the rest of my glass and headed to the coffee shop.

After an hour at the coffee shop, I had written 100 words. After three hours, I had a single page. I couldn’t focus. My eyes. I was too drunk to write.

My problem is the type of drunk I am. There are people for whom alcohol gives energy, allowing them to drink all night after a long day of work. My friend Hole is one of those people. With every drink, he becomes livelier, more talkative, and thirstier. Often times, this means that he’s going to order a bottle of whisky later in the night once he’s warmed up with beer or Long Island Ice Teas, once I’m on the cusp of feel-good drunk and hazy, tired, torturous drunk. When I’m drunk, I get sleepy and am otherwise useless.

Fortunately, getting drunk quickly means that it will wear off quickly, and I managed to finish six pages by the end of the night. The lesson I’m taking away from yesterday is not that drinking and writing don’t mix. I had a double of whisky with lunch today and the writing is coming along fine. The lesson is to find a level of drunkenness that allows me to be functional.


4 Responses

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  1. “often substituting beer for dinner”

    A friend of mine refers to beer as “liquid bread.”

    Interesting insights about Hole, by the way. Ex-Mormons, eh? The Spirit helps them metabolize the spirits.

    “The lesson is to find a level of drunkenness that allows me to be functional.”

    And this is an ongoing game: since your body is constantly changing, the appropriate level of drunkenness is never the same from day to day.

    Kevin Kim (@bighominid)

    April 13, 2012 at 1:24 am

    • I guess it could say that I’m developing a “bread belly,” but it doesn’t have the ring that “beer belly” does. I also consume almost no bread, aside from hamburger buns and pizza crust.

      Hole is an alcoholic; that’s why we’re friends. I think the way he puts it is that he has a lot of catching up to do. I think he’s more than caught up.

      I’m one of those annoyingly lucky people whose weight pretty much stays constant. It’s just my muscle to fat ratio that changes, the latter growing by the day. I think the biggest factor in the consideration of drunkenness for me is how tired I am. The goal is just not to get plastered before heading out to write.

      Hope everything is going well. I haven’t heard you speak of any money troubles lately, which is always a good thing.


      April 13, 2012 at 12:25 pm

      • re: money troubles

        Oh, I’m still doing poorly, but at the end of this month, I get $900 for the writing project I completed a week or so ago. I’m supposed to be receiving a huge manuscript, a Master’s thesis from a friend, but he hasn’t sent it yet (he had said it would arrive, along with payment, in “early April”). That’s unfortunate, because it’s a $1600 job. He’s rich, this friend, but he may be hesitant to pay for that much proofing. I don’t know. I charge $20 per 250 words for proofing, an increase from $15 back in the early 2000s, when I was still in Seoul. It’s a bit higher than the going rate (currently W12,000 – W18,000 per 200-250 words), but I think I do a better job than most of the schmoes out there. Not that that matters: I gave my friend a discount of several hundred dollars. The $1600 is much lower than it would have been.

        re: Hole

        Doesn’t he read your blog and the appended comments? Or does he not care that the world knows his dirty secret?

        HOLE, YOU LUSH!

        Kevin Kim (@bighominid)

        April 14, 2012 at 4:26 am

      • That’s good that work is coming in. It’s been a while since I’ve had any editing or translation work to supplement my income, which isn’t bad because I’ve been able to put in a lot of hours recently into the book.

        Hole does read the blog and I don’t know if he cares. But the fact is, he is an alcoholic. If he does care, he can be comforted by the fact that I get very little traffic here.

        Kevin, I have a Buddhism-related question. What is your understanding of the lines 색즉시공 공즉시색? I’ve heard various things, most recently from a student in religious studies, but I’d like to hear your opinion.


        April 17, 2012 at 11:51 pm

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