Drinking, Writing, and Self-Discovery

Drinking Diaries: Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up

More than a year ago, I participated in a Q&A over at the Drinking Diaries website, which is a forum for women to share, vent, express, and discuss their drinking stories without judgment.

It was a fun experience and many wonderful comments came through, plus a couple people bluntly said they didn’t want to know the personal side of me—stick to professional writing and publishing advice, please.

So, fair warning, the Q&A veers away from professional writing advice. And so does the book I was asked to contribute to.

Drinking Diaries is an anthology of essays about women and drinking, edited by Leah Odze Epstein & Caren Osten Gerszberg, and published by Seal Press this month. I’m proud to say I’m a contributor, along with other remarkable women such as Jacquelyn Mitchard, Daphne Merkin, Kathryn Harrison, Ann Hood, Ann Leary, Pam Houston, Elissa Schappell, Asra Nomani, Priscilla Warner, Rita Williams, and Joyce Maynard.

My essay is dead last in the collection. Titled “Drinking as Genuine Vocation,” here’s a snippet from the middle:

I’ve always secretly thrilled at the thought that Alan Watts, a great enlightened person and spiritual teacher—admired by many—likely drank himself to death. I think it’s because alcohol helped him, like it helps me, focus on the ecstasy of what’s just right here, and to dig into the essence of life in this very moment, without the echo chamber of the mind going on and on and on. I feel more myself, without hang-ups, without getting stuck. I observe it all the more deeply and feel it all more acutely—and in this, perhaps I am like every other desperate writer, looking for the next remarkable thought.

William James said, “One of the charms of drunkenness unquestionably lies in the deepening sense of reality and truth which is gained therein. In whatever light things may then appear to us, they seem more utterly what they are, more ‘utterly utter’ than when we are sober.”

Drinking Diaries is now available as a paperback or e-book. Visit Amazon and read a sample chapter.

Posted in Creativity + Inspiration, Growing Up, Love.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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John R Tomlinson

There’s something very endearing about this, it just makes me smile.

Terry Mominee

This is a tricky subject, drinking, and requires a certain amount of self-confidence and inner strength to approach. I admire the openness it took for everyone in the book to bring that project about, their willingness to bare a part of themselves that a lot of people will be uncomfortable with. Alcohol and other such substances have been used by creative types for milennia to loosen the shackles of their minds or to escape (for whatever reason). Personally, I wonder if many are able to keep from crossing the fine line of controlling or being consumed, and whether that final… Read more »

Ruth Crocker

I love your honest and positive approach to this subject which is often so feared, maligned and abused at least in American culture.

Darrelyn Saloom

My copy has shipped, and I can’t wait!

David Mark Brown

Very interesting snippet. Insightful. I’ve always lived in places like Salt Lake City and Bible belt. Didn’t start drinking until nearly 30. I do it alone or with one trusted friend who I know will help me gain the most from the experience. If I get hung in a manuscript during the day it almost always works itself out with some booze at night as i gain insight into the characters. I think it is the “utterly utter.”

Sam Lowe

It’s lunchtime. I should order my three martinis now, if I want to be my best for the end of the day…

andy kubrin

Very interesting. I loved the William James quote. Also loved your line about writers looking for the next remarkable thought–that’s us!

Shirley Sorbello

I read more of your essay on Amazon and so totally relate to it. I will enjoy reading it on Kindle tonight!

Ellen Roddick

Excellent. I will order the book and locate the website. Will now write my own drinking story, too. Thanks.


Your one of my friends I haven’t met.

Tom Bentley

Jane, you’ve written of your affection for a warm (and/or cold) shot of bourbon in the past. Since I lean toward that liquor more than others (and probably lean even more after having a couple), I love seeing that you’ve written an entire essay on drinking. Cheers!

Connie Myres

Thank you for the honesty. It helps to know that I am not so “abnormal” after all, and that I fit in just fine 🙂


Not long ago, Jane, you asked for writers to submit comments on what we do to get out of a writing funk. I didn’t take the time to put in my 2 cents worth then, but I will pass it along now that I find sitting on my back deck watching the birds, squirrels, dragon flies and other residents in my little piece of nature-heaven works wonders for freeing up ideas. Or…maybe it’s the glass of wine I enjoy at the same time.

Al Katkowsky

Drinking seems to be a road for some, and the end for others. I can’t wait to see Jane’s piece in full.

Here’s a relevant link to Jane’s excerpt, as I understand it. I came across it last night, via a friend’s blog. Lighthearted, but serious:


Karen Lawson

Ah yes, the taboos. Rest assured that most of us think the “personal side” has a lot to do with the professional side. Thanks.

Dave Malone

Jane, I am so pleased to have read the essay in full, and I like your Wattsian take here. And how it goes in direct contrast to what Shirley MacLaine (Out on a Limb is a great read) once remarked (I’m paraphrasing) that genuine emotion can only be expressed while sober. I think her advice can be good for some, as Terry points out in the comments, for those who “might be consumed.” However, then it raises the questions, what good is this supposed genuine emotion (if tangled up in stark reality), and who said there was something wrong with… Read more »

Hope Perlman

Okay, you’ve whetted my appetite. It was the mention of Alan Watts that intrigued me….