You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but there was a time when I was one of the fastest runners in my school. Not over distance, no no no. I could barely sustain myself for longer than about 110 metres. BUT, during that 100m I was almost unbeatable.
I can still sprint these days, but nowhere near the level I achieved back then. The reason for my current dallying?
See back then I had something that made me faster. No, I’m not just talking about a longer leg to back ratio than now. That’s Science. I’m talking about desire.
For me, running was one of the few ways I could be a winner. It was one forum where I was able to outclass the sporty kids.
That passion, that energy, is what kept me ahead.
Well, until I discovered girls and cigarettes. Then it was more about staying cool. And cool kids don’t run, they saunter and jive.
But it got me thinking; what fuels my writing? Sleepless nights fighting fantasy battles in my head I need to get onto the page? A constant re-arranging of the 26 letters of the English alphabet to try and crack a code in life? Dementia?
Writing, like anything, needs some ammunition to get going. From the physical to the existential, it all starts somewhere.
So let’s kick off by looking at what we put in, or do to, our bodies, and see the creative fuel for some of history’s most famous authors.
What’s in your refinery?
Mud. Joe. The ol’ brown mistress. Whatever you might call it, coffee is pretty much synonymous with writing. I’m sure many of us put a pot or ten on and just see how far we can get before we slip into psychosis and begin to babble and rant into the computer screen until we are repeatedly hitting the space bar and saying ‘come on, come on’.
Coffee has all the right properties for a budding writer; energy, reputation, ease of use and wide availability. Plus, without it, where else would you turn up with your laptop and announce to the world you’re a cool, alternative writer than in a coffee shop?
Twist: Some may prefer tea. I know there are times when tea is better, such as when you’re scribbling at 11pm and don’t fancy dropping into the caffeine valley when you need to be up at 7am. However, despite popular belief, tea often contains more caffeine. Be warned!
Personal favourite: Double espresso with one brown sugar lump. For the tea drinker, an iced green tea to refresh yourself.
“I have no idea what I’m doing. I just wrote ‘I’m a writer’ twenty times. Is that OK?”
Hemingway loved a drink to such an extent they named one after him. The Hemingway Daquiri is delicious, though I’m not sure how much writing you’ll get done after a couple.
He wasn’t the only one though. Raymond Chandler had a pretty well documented alcohol abuse problem, and Jack Kerouac’s death was a result of cirrhosis of the liver caused by a lifetime of drinking.
Let’s not get down though. Many writers drank. Faulkner, Poe, Thompson, Capote, Thomas, Parker, Bukowski… to name but a few.
I can’t say whether the booze is the root of the creativity, or a symptom of it. But I do know that alcohol, like anything, is best enjoyed in moderation. Then again, I’m no literary hero…
“I’m so hungover from all this writing”
As with any creative area, or any form of artistic expression, writing has a tendency to be linked with drugs from time to time. This isn’t a recent phenomenon either. Baudelaire often wrote under the influence of hash.
But he wasn’t alone. It’s widely known that Stephen King spent the best part of the eighties churning out record rates of fiction while popping uppers and booger sugar (spot the cocaine inspired characters in his most famous stories – you will).
There’s also the aforementioned Hunter S. Thompson, getting Fear and Loathing in a number of exciting situations. Or Philip K. Dick using his substance abuse issues to inspire a vast back catalogue of sci-fi romps that range in quality from Saturday Writing Club to mesmerising.
Let’s not forget Ken Kesey and his acid, Robert Louis Stevenson bashing out Jekyl and Hyde in about six coke-fuelled days, or Huxley and his mescaline inspired Doors of Perception.
Check out: A Scanner Darkly by Phillip K. Dick or The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe
Lance Armstrong sold a lot of books…
Sex sells. It’s one of the most basic of human desires, and one of the most basic human impulses. Some writers (I’m looking at you Bukowski) saw sex as the call to arms to try and make relations with every member of the opposite sex. I’m sure it’s also no coincidence that a lot of the previously mentioned alcoholics and drug abusers also happen to be serial womanisers too.
Sex also happens to be the only thing on this list older than the written word.
Norman Mailer didn’t always write about his sexual activity, but it was certainly running in the background behind his writing. And it should come as no surprise that Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, was a notorious womaniser.
There were some men for whom sex became the ultimate inspiration, not just objectified, but idolised and celebrated. Henry Miller broke down some stigma around sex in literature with his novel Tropic of Cancer.
But it wasn’t all men. Anaïs Nin is one of the most famous erotic writers of the last hundred years, and her work will live on as the foundation for the erotic writing movement.
… so you can thank her for stuff like this
Baudelaire is credited with coining the term flâneur. Essentially, it’s someone who enjoys wandering a city or other place purely for the pleasure of walking and taking in the sights and smells around you. Will Self is a modern proponent of it, and he often writes about it too.
For some, exercise was a more a part of the fabric of their writing routine. In a letter to his wife from 1965, Kurt Vonnegut said “I do pushups and sit-ups all the time, and feel as though I am getting lean and sinewy, but maybe not” (seen here at Brainpickings.org). The idea being that between bouts of writing, it was important to keep yourself fresh, but also challenged, so as to keep the mind focused.
“Writing is tiring stuff!”
So, what’s yours? Maybe it’s on the list, maybe it’s not. I’d love to hear what gets your writing going.
Part two explores the more mental side of writing fuel.
Useful Links for further reading:
www.toptenz.net article Top 10 Substance Addled Writers
listverse.com article Top 15 Great Alcoholic Writers
Huffington Post article Women Are Honestly writing About Sex: It’s About time
Special thanks to Chaiwat, farconville, imagerymajestic, stockimages and supakitmod @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.
© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2016