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Drink What You Know

The New York Times had a great essay recently by Geoff Nicholson, entitled Drink What You Know. It’s part book review — for a re-issued “The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto” — and part survey of literary drinking and writer’s advice on both writing and drinking. It includes this gem about the perils of my profession. “People telling you how to drink is every bit as tedious and annoying as people telling you not to drink at all.”

Nicholson continues:

When you think about it, rules for drinking are not so different from rules for writing. Many of these are so familiar they’ve become truisms: Write what you know. Write every day. Never use a strange, fancy word when a simple one will do. Always finish the day’s writing when you could still do more. With a little adaptation these rules apply just as well for drinking. Drink what you know, drink regularly rather than in binges, avoid needlessly exotic booze, and leave the table while you can still stand.

That seems true enough, but my favorite piece of advice comes near the end:

The best you can hope for is to arrive, by whatever means, at the same conclusions as those who are older and wiser. Another piece of advice from Richard Ford runs, “Don’t drink and write at the same time,” a rule I follow scrupulously. But a more nuanced version of the same rule comes from Keith Waterhouse, the author of “Billy Liar.” He said you should never drink while you’re writing, but it’s O.K. to write while you’re drinking, a nice distinction.

Let that sink in. You should never drink while you’re writing, but it is acceptable to write while you’re drinking. Whew, dodged a bullet there.

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