Rules for Writing - Rule #5 - Thou Shalt Write While Under the Influence Sparingly

When I tell people that I graduated from Humboldt State University, located in the northern California region renowned for its legendary pot crop, well, those people make certain assumptions about my lifestyle.

Granted, there is other damning biographical evidence that by rights should indict me as a pot-head: I majored in English, played the drums, wore the requisite Van Dyke and long hair, and I fell in love with jazz during my tenure in one of the most beautiful places on the planet (I never could get into the music of the Grateful Dead – I believe the love for that band’s oeuvre is a binary, in-born equation; it’s either switched on inside you at birth or it’s switched off. For me – off.)

Any assumptions about my being a user of marijuana were and are incorrect. My long-ago forays as a consumer in the Emerald Triangle’s economy were short-lived – who knew that being stoned would bring out an as yet undiscovered panic and paranoia. What relaxes everyone else I know, stirs in me the opposite reaction – physically and mentally. I’m a major bummer when on weed. No wake and bake for me.

My drug of choice, like many writers before me, is alcohol. And if I were going to use one drug to cast off the day’s restraints and slap-awake those flagging creative muscles, if I were going push past my natural inhibitions, inward criticisms, and let the words loose, I would do so with a drink. Or two.

I’ve found, however, that creating while inebriated, that writing while under the influence, is a dangerous method for calling down the muse.

I’m not saying don’t write stoned or drunk, and I’m not saying that I’ve never done it. I have. And there are times--legitimate times--when employing this trick works. We’re stuck, we can’t get the flow, we need a push into our creative Zone. We all grew into our artistic selves under the tutelage of folks who stoned themselves on opiates or depressants or stimulants in their artistic pursuits.

One of my personal favorite failed writers/stoners is the Romantic poet Samuel Coleridge, who was so close to producing poetic masterpieces and just couldn’t quite get there because of his unfortunate opium habit.

The Coleridges of the literary and art worlds raise an obvious question: What if the means to creation become the ends in themselves?

To generalize (as I often do in this blog): most creative types are born with an inherent need to alter their senses, to jack around with their already heightened ability to perceive and to empathize. That inclination coupled with a creative action that, when it’s bursting through your synapses, can feel an awful lot like a high, will tangle and confound.

The true danger, then, is relying on the drug to get the work done. That’s the boundary Coleridge and so many before and after him hopscotched right over. Take away the drugs and you’ve taken away the creativity. Put the drugs back and you burn out the artist, make him or her dependent on the substance in order produce what is inevitably work of diminishing quality.

With my writing time switched long-ago to the early morning hours, this issue of whether to employ alcohol has resolved itself – my body and my imagination only crave coffee at that ungodly hour. But were I writing at night and in need of bypassing the constant whirl of thoughts and judgments cycloning behind my eyeballs, I would employ alcohol in judicious amounts only during my drafting and composing phases. Perhaps during certain tedious parts of the revision phase, provided it’s mostly content revision. And never ever would I use anything other than coffee during the critical analysis/line-editing phase.

Do what you will, of course, but for your sake and the sake of your work, do it sparingly.