Pen not mightier than the drink for authors

BY ERIC ANDERSEN | JULY 01, 2009 7:21 AM

Thursday marks the anniversary of acclaimed writer Ernest Hemingway’s death in 1961. The author committed suicide by laying a Boss & Co. shotgun at an angle on the ground, leaning his face over the barrels, and pulling both triggers. The brutal death was a shocking way to go — permanently marking his legendary status.

It’s no secret that Hemingway suffered from alcoholism and a severe case of depression. A large number of authors, including Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, and Hunter S. Thompson, all committed suicide, and even more suffered from mental illness.

It may seem strange that writers get so depressed; after all, they get to sit around and do what they love for hours on end. Sometimes, though, the creative process has its downsides.

Many authors write about bleak topics. Hemingway wrote several novels that focused on war and death including the acclaimed Farewell to Arms, a novel that discusses the consequences of war.

Frequently, writing about such topics is likely to leave an image that will haunt an author’s mind long after the story is done.

Some writers frequently deal with failure throughout their entire lives. Even successful authors such as Stephen King admit it’s a struggle to launch their careers. Pink slips, rejection letters, and monetary struggles are all part of life for creative minds. This could make even the most optimistic of writers crave a few drinks.

Both known and unknown writers have a tendency to hit the bottle hard. In addition to Hemingway, James Joyce, Edgar Allen Poe, and William Faulkner all suffered from alcoholism. Even here at the UI, there are spots known as “writer’s bars” where the scholarly go to socialize with fellow authors and drink for hours on end — talking about the novels they hope to publish someday.

The writing field can also be a lonely one. People who spend lots of time dedicated to writing usually do so behind closed doors in an isolated room with only a computer or pen and paper as company. It can be easy for them to get caught up in their own world and forget that life exists beyond writing.

Writing may be a depressing medium, but it is also has a lot of merit. Readers tend to use stories as a means for escaping the real world or dealing with difficult issues. It’s just too bad that many writers have trouble taking on their own problems.

Hemingway is one of the most highly regarded authors of the 20th century, yet he lived a life full of torment and misery. Despite this, readers will remember the author for his great contributions to literature rather than his unfortunate life.

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