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••• The International Writers Magazine - 23 Years on-line - Writer's Tips for Creativity

Helping Writers Find Solace in Sobriety
• Indiana Lee

As a writer, you’ve probably heard the maxim commonly associated with Hemingway “Write drunk, edit sober”. In fact, this kind of thinking may have led you to think that drinking alcohol will, in some way, improve your creative practice.


While some studies do support the idea that alcohol can boost creativity, it’s by no means a deal-breaker. You can certainly live a life of complete sobriety and still publish the next best-selling novel.

While we’re here, it’s also worth pointing out that Hemingway never actually said “write drunk, edit sober”. If anything, the literary icon preferred to write sober, proving that any writer can find solace in sobriety.

Connect with a Support Group

Getting sober is hard. It’s even harder when you live the heralded “life of the mind” and rely upon your creative output for your income. Over 30% of people who try to quit alcohol relapse in the first year of sobriety, showing that the addictive pull towards alcohol consumption is strong. Things aren’t easier if you choose to go it alone, either, as without support you may be drawn back to old thoughts and habits.

If you start to notice that alcohol use is interfering with your life, it might be worth getting screened for alcohol addiction. Screening is an imperfect tool, but it can indicate whether or not you are genetically predisposed to becoming addicted. This will help you make better-informed decisions about how you spend your time and will help medical professionals suggest treatment options and therapy.

Of course, many people go sober without visiting a doctor. While connecting with a medical professional is best, you can also lean on your current friendship group to aid your sobriety efforts. If your current friends pressure you into drinking, then you should consider finding new friends or even signing up to join online writer’s groups through pages like Reddit’s r/writing.

New Role Models

When did you first start to associate writing with drinking? Was it after you finished Great Gatsby and learned of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s infamous alcoholism? Or perhaps it was after watching A Moveable Feast, where every scene seems to take place in a bar. Wherever your association between booze and prose began, it’s time to ditch the connection and start finding new role models.

Fortunately, there are plenty of authors who make for superb, sober role models. Just take a look at John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars, who spends his day writing with a few friends. It shows that writing, when done well, is a mostly solitary endeavor that requires long periods of concentration punctuated with a few moments of sociability.

Now, if you’re really in love with the idea of drinking while writing, and refuse to adopt a role model other than Tennesee Williams or Jack Kerouac (both heavy drinkers), then perhaps you can opt for a non-alcoholic version of your favorite beverage. This is playing with the proverbial fire, but mocktails and non-alcoholic beers are gaining popularity. Last year alone, there was a 500% increase in searches for “non-alcoholic spiced rum”. So, if you just can’t do without a mojito while you write, try skipping the rum and opting for soda water instead.

Write in the Morning, Edit in the Evening

Finding solace in sobriety will require you to change your routine and form new habits. If you’re accustomed to writing in the evening with a few fingers of whiskey, then you may need to forgo writing in the evening for a while until you no longer associate writing with drinking.

However, if your drinking habits are intended to aid your creativity, then you may find it nearly impossible to fill the next blank page without the help of a beverage. This makes sense, as writers usually have to enter a deeper state of focus to produce their poetry and prose. After a busy day, your brain may feel fuzzy or wired, which makes it difficult to follow the arc of a narrative or craft realistic dialogue.

To remedy this, you should experiment with writing early in the morning. When you first wake up, you are closest to a dream-like state called hypnopompia. Writing while in a hypnopompic state allows you to see connections that an alert brain would otherwise miss, and may even aid in your efforts to find the conclusion to a character’s quest. The key is to get straight to work after waking and take full use of your brain's ability to freely associate.

At some point, you will have to edit all that “free association” and creativity. You can make further use of some interesting brain chemistry by opting to edit in the early evening. That’s because your ability to complete simple mental tasks is highest when your body temperature is slightly raised. Most people’s body temperature is highest in the early evening, so sitting down to dot the “i”s and cross the “t”s around 4-6 pm is best both for productivity and as a healthy distraction from alcohol.

Do Other Things With Your Time

You probably spend a significant part of your day doing activities other than writing. Even prolific writers, who are capable of producing several thousand words in 24 hours, need time away from the keyboard to refresh their brains and stretch their fingers. But, as someone seeking sobriety, the time away from writing can be a little perilous.

You can make it easier on yourself by forming new hobbies that support your writing and engage you fully. For example, you may choose to dabble with exercise or physical hobbies that require you to be sober. Picking up a new hobby like hiking in your local area or playing a sport can also help you get out of a rut and boost your creativity when you get back to your desk.

wine o clock Conclusion

Writing while sober is the norm for most writers. However, if you’re used to a tipple while you type, writing without a beverage might feel strange. You can make it easier by writing in the morning when you’re at the peak of your creative powers. Then, when the evening comes around you can edit your free-flowing thoughts into something more cohesive and reader-friendly.

 Indiana Lee © Indiana Lee 6.07.22

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