I recently read about a writer who gets up at 4 am to write. She says she is flooded with ideas at that time of day and glad to have a computer because she is not able to write fast enough by hand to get all her thoughts down on paper. It is also the only time of day when she has free time to herself without anyone else making demands on her.
I bet she looks forward to her first cup of coffee A LOT. She made getting up early sound attractive.
I don’t like the taste or smell of coffee and I can’t imagine getting up to write when it’s still dark outside. My mind is never flooded with ideas then—certainly not ones related to writing. I wake up slowly and the idea of waking up even earlier to try to write feels pointless for me. I even tried to discuss this with my therapist once, who felt strongly I am simply stuck in the mindset that “I can’t write in the morning.” She didn’t exactly recommend coffee but it was mentioned as a possible motivator. If I only liked coffee, maybe I would go for it.
I envy coffee drinkers. Caffeine in moderation is a good thing: for a three to five hour period, it can improve memory and concentration. It stimulates the central nervous system and makes a person feel more alert. I have watched how it changes a grumpy person into an upbeat one first thing in the morning.
On the other hand, too much coffee can make a person irritable and jumpy. Alertness may be more of an illusion if the body gets tired from being jacked up for too long.
At my grandmother’s 90th birthday party, a cousin and I decided to have coffee for the first time. Within 10 minutes we became jittery. Clearly, caffeine is a powerful drug to the uninitiated.
Do you think you need to drink coffee in order to write?
Would it be so bad to answer yes? I don’t think so! Coffee can be good for you and your mind, especially when you write early in the morning.
What about wine? I don’t recommend you start the day with a glass of wine! But if you’re like me, I write best in the late afternoon. And a glass of wine is a wonderful treat when I sit down at the computer to write after my active day at work. Somehow it helps me relax, enjoy the creative process, and organize my writing thoughts which have been “pinging” throughout the day. My mind feels released to focus on the writing, and I can be productive and alert for 2-3 hours at that time of day. I probably could do it without a glass of wine, but during the week, I have a ritual – I come home from work, feed my cats, change into comfy clothes, pour a glass of wine, and sit down at the computer. I am ready to write and it’s a joy.
I think wine also has a relaxing effect on my brain, allowing me to make connections that I normally might not see. While this might sound like wishful thinking, I have noticed a glass of wine definitely increases my chances of winning at Scrabble and of completing crossword puzzles for the very reason that I ‘see” options I would otherwise miss.
I always have a bottle of cold water alongside my wine, because the many times I stop to take a sip probably could make me tipsy if I had a bottomless wine glass. By the time I finish the bottle of water and the glass of wine, I definitely need a bathroom drink, and getting up to walk to the bathroom gives me an opportunity to stretch.
Caffeine, wine, and writing are fine with a couple of caveats.
- If your job is writing all day, don’t depend on coffee alone for your energy. You also need good nutrition, which is an underlying source of brain power. The same is true for wine.
- One glass of wine is fine, but if you can’t stop at one glass don’t start. More wine will not enhance your writing. Obviously, if drinking too much alcohol is a problem for you, it is unwise to include alcohol in your writing plans.
In setting up a writing routine, try to figure out what time of day YOU are naturally most productive. Are you a night owl or a morning person or perhaps a happy hour person? Knowing your natural rhythms and working with them will give you the most success in your writing efforts. A ritual in any realm of life is a way to focus the experience. Coffee and wine are both traditional ritual substances.
While there’s no reason to add caffeine or wine to your writing time, don’t beat yourself up if they are already something you do. Instead, incorporate a cup of coffee or a glass of wine as a ritual, with writing as the goal. Moderation is a skill that is easiest to master if you have a routine.
Six or seven years ago my advice to aspiring authors of nonfiction books was to build an audience platform by blogging. An example of how critical blogging could be to securing a publishing contract can be found in the case of Ann Marie Ackermann, author of Death of an Assassin: The True Story of the German Murderer Who Died Defending Robert E. Lee. After an initial assessment of her manuscript, I had recommended she start a historical true-crime blog, and she did. In fact, the editor of the ideal book series at Kent State University Press became a fan ofRead more…