Thinking Out Loud: Creativity Under the Influence

I’ve decided to start a new series of posts that I’m calling “Thinking Out Loud”. These will be short posts on thoughts and observations that have taken roost in my brain. This is the first of the series. Comments are always welcome. We can think out loud together.

CW: drug and alcohol usage

I went to my local bookstore the other day and found a magnet with a quote often misattributed to Ernest Hemingway:

“Write drunk; edit sober.”

Hemingway never wrote while drunk because he opted to write in the morning and drank later in the day. This quote may not be such good advice in the literal sense; however, it’s a great metaphor about the writing process.

Writing “drunk” means that we should let go of our insecurities and let it all our on the page, writing freely without pausing. To edit “sober,” however, is when you delve into the mess of your draft and concentrate, putting things in their proper places and ensuring that what you’ve written while “drunk” makes sense for your audience.

And though this quote is not meant to be taken literally, some of us happen to work better under the influence. I admit that I have written stories while partaking of a certain type of flower or a certain brand of spirit (usually both at the same time), but recreational substances can have the inspirational effect creators need to add to their work or spur the creative process.

I’m not saying that every creator should go out to their nearest liquor store or contact that one friend with “connections,” but I also think we shouldn’t be quick to judge when some creators get their ideas from an outside high. We all work differently with our art and can draw inspiration from everywhere. Personally, I get as many ideas from a leisurely walk as much as I do when watching “Tom and Jerry” while stoned.

But when we choose the recreational route to help us create, we have to be responsible with it, and if we look back at our favorite creators not all of them could handle the “influence.”

I’ve been thinking about this lately because sometimes it’s hard for me to sit with a sober, logical mind and just start writing. I feel limited and held back and I’m not able to break free and let the words flow. It could be fear and self-doubt or it could be that my brain suddenly said “Nope” the moment I sat in front of the blank page. So, I opt for a little “boost.” But, I have an addictive personality and I live in the Portland area where there’s a dispensary on every block. Lately, it’s become less of a Mecca and more of a trigger. I told myself I wouldn’t mention the lockdowns a lot in my posts, but I have no doubt that my increased usage of marijuana is because of them. It’s easy to abuse now and I don’t want it to be a crutch.

The weekends are the worst. I’m preoccupied with my full-time, work-from-home job during the week and although many places have opened back up, I usually opt to stay home. That’s when I smoke a bowl or take an edible. It’s always in the early evenings but, when the high kicks in, there’s no telling what I’ll do with it. Sometimes I’ll start a short story and sometimes I’ll watch YouTube all night. If it’s the latter, I become depressed when I come down from that high. Taking advantage of that “boost” in order to create doesn’t mean much when the outcome is unpredictable.

It could be hereditary, though. One of my favorite country songs is “Family Tradition” by Hank Williams, Jr., and it’s true that if “I get stoned and sing all night long” I get it from quite a few of my relatives.

But dear reader, please don’t think that alcohol and pot are the only things I inherited from my family. My dad wrote poetry and songs (most of them while high) and plays guitar. My mom paints. My late aunt was a seamstress who sewed gorgeous quilts while her daughter’s hobby was scrapbooking. My mom’s brother was an artist in his younger days and practiced calligraphy, and my dad’s brother is a writer and active in community theatre.

I have a creative lineage to be proud of and I know I shouldn’t feel bad when I feel the need to tap into it with a bowl of sativa or a Jack and Coke. But there is a limit to what all creators use as a muse. I don’t need that “boost” as much as I used to in order to begin writing, but I am working on those urges to stop time around me when the stress gets to be too much.

What do you think? Do you pour a shot of liquid courage to create? Leave a comment and let me know. I’m interested in different perspectives from fellow writers.

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