Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde “in six days and six nights on a cocaine binge,” and Edgar Allan Poe binge-drank even though a single glass of wine transformed him into a madman. For Stephen King, it was cocaine; for Burroughs, heroin; for Bukowski, booze. Now Alex Beam accuses some unlikely contemporary writers of “literary doping“:
There is, of course, the old-fashioned explanation for why the Buckleys, the Winchesters, and the John Updikes of the world make the rest of us look like clock-watching quill-pushers: hard work. But I have dismissed the possibility that these writers might have studied harder in school, read more books, or spent more hours at the desk than a grasshopper such as I. Or that they are simply more gifted than I am. They must be on something.
Treating himself to a rare moment away from the literary grindstone, Updike, progenitor of (gasp) 63 published works, according to the Writer’s Directory, confirms that he has been ingesting performance enhancers for years. “I used to dope myself with cigars and coffee,” he says, “though during the past couple of decades I had to switch to Lipton tea and Paul Newman’s pretzels. It’s not quite the same jolt, and I’m not sure if my performance hasn’t fallen off, but those have been my addictions.”