Does Drinking Make You a Better Writer?

Have you ever felt that drinking makes you a better writer? If you’re like me, then you’ve got term papers coming up and you’re probably concerned about performing well. As students, we’re constantly writing—whether it’s a term paper, an e-mail to our professor, or a text message—we’re constantly conveying ourselves through little symbols that are supposed to capture our innermost feelings and flawlessly project them onto our intended recipients.

There is a lot of pressure involved. Perhaps you’ve entertained the idea of whether or not hav­ing a drink makes you a better writer. To that end I ask, what are you drinking? Professors have an idea of what makes a paper good and the syllabus they hand out at the beginning of each quarter outlines their criteria: supporting your thoughts with evidence, repeated editing, and conveying messages accurately with power. If my professors say this is what makes a paper good, then alcohol does not make me a better writer.

I am not putting any dirt on your shoulder if you drink more than I do. I just want to open the floor for debate. Personally when drinking, I let my emotions run wild on the page. Alcohol drowns out your inhibitions and lets you express yourself freely without the voices in your head mulling over every detail. On the other hand, drinking does not make you as precise and technical of a writer as your professors would like.

But enough about me, let’s talk about alcohol. Many of the people we consider great writers were notorious drunks. Truman Capote, Edgar Allan Poe, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, were all infamous for their drinking as well as their prose, to name a few. Some of them also struggled with mental health issues, such as depression and thoughts of suicide.

Perhaps there is a correlation between alcohol abuse and mental health; to these writers, alcohol was a way to keep from having to deal with the stress in their lives. Alcohol is a depressant, which in low doses may cause feelings of bliss, relaxation, and increased sociability. In moderate to high doses it may cause loss of coordination, decreased attention span, and unconsciousness.

Feeling blissful and relaxed may help you come up with topic ideas for your paper, but a decrease in focus and coordination may lead to more errors than elegance. You might even say something you don’t truly mean or send a drunken text to the wrong person. In 1941, Scott Fitzgerald, always a heavy drinker, died of a heart attack, a condition further complicated by alcohol abuse, in 1940. Ernest Hemingway com­mitted suicide after bouts with alcoholism and mental illness. You may feel as if the ideas are simply flowing smoother, but that seems like one hell of a trade-off, even if it does help you to be more creative.

What about other drinks… like coffee? Coffee’s main ingredient is caffeine, a compound that works in the opposite way that alcohol does. Coffee stimulates the central nervous system as opposed to depressing it. Caffeine promotes alertness and helps to combat feeling tired.

According to Medical News Today, “200 mg of caffeine each day may boost long-term memory.” 200 milligrams equates to approximately one 12-ounce cup of coffee, or a “tall” from Starbucks. Too much caffeine, however, can lead to anxiety, ner­vousness, sleeplessness, and the dreaded “jitters.” If you are drinking coffee and writing, you may be able to stay awake longer, but can you focus on your paper or will you open a new tab and go to Facebook that much faster?

If you think drinking—whether coffee, alcohol, or any other stimulant—will help you be a better writer, consider this quote from American essayist, lecturer, and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Do the thing and you will have the power.” If you want to accomplish a certain task, whether it’s becoming a better basketball player, a crazy-good kisser, or a better writer, then practice doing that thing and, eventually, you will have the power to do that thing. It may seem redundant, but consider Occam’s ra­zor, the simplest answer is usually correct. So go do the thing. If you want to be a better writer, then write.