Image by Hugh MacLeod
Drink and drugs.
A writer’s key to inspiration? Or a demon to your creative success?
One of the hottest debates surrounding inspiration is that of the effect of drink and drugs. Some firmly believe they are essential for great creations. Even German philosopher Nietzsche stated that:
For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic society or perception to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication.
You don’t have to think too long to conjure up a list of famous writers whose work emerged in spite of or perhaps because of their ‘intoxication’, yet there is something simplistic and fragile about this as a foundation for creativity. For every Bukowski or Burroughs, there are thousands of writers whose names we don’t know, their potential success suffocated by their intoxicating ‘inspiration’.
Novelist and journalist Will Self is one of the well-known, modern-day literary rebels; an initiated member into the fraternity of hell-raising writers. Self’s addiction to drink began before he was a teen and he was addicted to heroin by the time he attended university. A brief stint of sobriety resulted in his first book The Quantity Theory of Insanity being written, but shortly after its publication he embarked on a decade of alcoholism, drug abuse and prolific publication.
Decadence and Drugs
Self’s lifestyle became almost as famous as his work. The experiences he had throughout his period of addiction heavily influenced his work, for example, it was hanging out with “repressed homosexual upper-class drug addicts” in the early 1980s that gave him the characters in his popular book Dorian. As Self admits:
The reason why I have written so much about decadence and drugs is because that is the way I have lived.
Despite pushing “a bottle of scotch a day” throughout most of the nineties, it was an industrious time for his writing. Between 1991 and 1998 he wrote eight books in addition to producing articles and interviews for The Observer, The Independent and GQ.
Whilst Self’s addictive personality and party lifestyle heavily influenced his work, he states that it is just a facet of his personality, rather than the reason for his creativity:
I own my work, but I don’t think that’s what’s me, necessarily… I like to think if I had run a donkey sanctuary in Cornwall then I would have written well about that.
Self never ran a donkey sanctuary in Cornwall, and there were many times when the lifestyle that fed him his inspiration simultaneously threatened to destroy his writing career. His addiction was famously exposed and Self was subsequently fired from his position at The Observer when he was caught taking heroin on the Prime Minister’s jet in 1997. It was a depressing blow to Self and his strong work ethic.
After this, Self got serious about separating his intoxication from the creative process, and now that he is sober full time, he enjoys a more robust and sustainable writing career.
Taming Your Inspiration
If you think your inspiration is making the transition from muse to demon, the following may help:
Learn when your inspiration is taking over
Signs that you may be experiencing more inspiration than creativity and productivity might include:
- Missing deadlines
- Missing out on work because you’re out of touch with clients and the industry
- Never having time to write because you’re out every night
- Editors and other writers avoiding your calls
If so, then you might want to…
Find new inspiration
You might find out that you can get the same inspiration, or even more inspiration – from less destructive sources. It might be something like going to more writing events, reading more books or magazines, going away for the weekend or even finding new people to spend time with.
Keep your inspiration and your productivity separate
Inspiration is the sexy side of creative success. Its less popular sibling is Hard Work. If Inspiration is the party animal, out every night, then Hard Work is hunched over the books in the library with no time to talk. You need both of these to succeed, but the key seems to be keeping them separate. Hard Work can’t concentrate if Inspiration is swishing around in the background singing ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’, and Inspiration isn’t going to have a great night on the town if she has to carry Hard Work’s book bag with her.
Even when drinking, Self recognised this and would separate, to a degree, his writing and the booze. Drink would be a reward, either Scotch at the end of the day, or a bender when a book was completed.
This may sound like it is all part of the rock ‘n’ roll writing lifestyle, but in a world of heavy competition, you’re going to lose opportunities to those who know when to buckle down and when to relax after the hard work is done.
Don’t forget your addiction to your art
Remember that feeling of completing your first story, article, or commission for a client. Chances are you felt like you could take over the world. That buzz you get from writing, doesn’t come from anything else except the art itself. Get drunk on that. One of the reasons Self has sustained his career for so long in spite of his destructive lifestyle, is that above all else, it was the writing that mattered.
I’m fucking serious about the writing. That’s what I do.
What Do You Think?
Where do you get your creative inspiration from?
Have you ever had too much inspiration and not enough productivity?
What do you do to keep your inspirational muse from becoming an inspirational demon?
About the Author: Amy Harrison is a copywriter who helps entrepreneurs find their voice online. She is author of The Copywriting Phrasebook (501 shortcuts to compelling copy) which helps business owners find the right words for their web content and sales copy. You can find further creative contemplation and copy tips for entrepreneurs at her copywriting blog or find her on Twitter at @littleunred.