Does Caffeine Make You a Better Writer?

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Like many of my fellow writers, I need a cup of coffee to stimulate the creative juices, especially when I sit down to write at ungodly early morning hours before the sun has risen. Often my mind is full of ideas which germinated while I was sleeping. I am raring to get started, something that is only possible when a mug of java is steaming at the side of my laptop.

There is no doubt in my mind that we’re talking about an addiction of sorts. My daily coffee intake is only two cups, but I find that I need that first cup as a source of motivation. My addiction is therefore not to caffeine, itself, but to the notion that I must drink coffee in order to have a productive writing session.

While it is a given that drinking coffee makes you more alert, does caffeine make you more creative as well? I decided to investigate.

Benefits of Drinking Coffee

The benefits of drinking moderate amounts of caffeine, as noted in a recent review, include:

1) Increase of energy and feelings of energy
2) Decrease in mental fatigue
3) Enhancement of physical, motor, and cognitive performance
4) Increase of alertness and wakefulness
5) Increase of the ability to concentrate and focus attention
6) Enhancement of short-term memory

Coffee has been referred to as one of the healthiest beverages around. As noted by Popular Science magazine, coffee improves brain function; helps you burn fat; may drastically lower the risk of Type II Diabetes; may lower your risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s; may be good for your liver; may lower the risk of dying in connection with Diabetes; and is loaded with nutrients and antioxidants.

With all these health benefits, surely drinking coffee is good for writers, right? 

Shanan, the so-called “Procrastiwriter“, says 6-7 daily cups of coffee help her be more risk-taking and confident in her work, and improve both the quality and the quantity of what she’s writing.

Derwood Talbot, in an article entitled “Why Coffee and Writing Go Hand in Hand,” says that “Writing is considered by many to be an arduous and daunting task, but the energizing effects of the caffeine in coffee helps overcome at least the first of many obstacles, the blank page. Writers everywhere know that sometimes the hardest part of writing is just getting started, but with coffee fueling your imagination and cognitive processes, flashing out a few keystrokes can seem like a breeze,” he writes.

Julia Munroe Martin says that in addition to keeping you awake, preserving your memory, and perking you up mentally, “caffeine can help energize you and keep you focused on boring and repetitive tasks.” This is very helpful if you do any kind of business or technical writing.

But there are downsides of drinking coffee as well, Martin notes. “Too much coffee can make you jittery.” The more coffee breaks you take, the less writing you’ll get done. And finally, with all that liquid coming into your system, “you may need to use the bathroom more often.”

Drinking in Moderation

“If you’re taking in enough caffeine that it messes with your sleep, the benefit can definitely be negated,” writes James Hamblin in an article entitled “Caffeine: For the More Creative Mind,” which appeared in The Atlantic. “Like every drug, its effects can’t be considered in a vacuum. Like all good things, moderation. You can’t get too much moderation,” he writes.

Maria Konnikova warns that “while caffeine has numerous benefits, it appears that the drug may undermine creativity more than it stimulates it.” Writing in The New Yorker, Konnikova says that “creative insights and imaginative solutions often occur when we stop working on a particular problem and let our mind move on to something unrelated.” Caffeine, she notes, “prevents our focus from becoming too diffuse; it instead hones our attention in a hyper-vigilant fashion.”

Before anyone considers coffee as a miracle drug which will guarantee perfect health, an article on the Health Ambitions website lists “7 Negative Effects of Coffee“, including irritation of the stomach, heartburn, laxative effects, and the release of stress hormones. Clearly, like any other substance which we consume on a regular basis, coffee should only be drunk in moderation.

Conclusion – to Drink or Not to Drink

There are a lot of people who don’t drink coffee, and it is easy to assume that there are plenty of writers who are very creative without resorting to caffeine intake at all. Coffee may stimulate creativity for some, while for others it may result in the mind’s being too alert for creativity to freely flow. Coffee may have health benefits, but there may also be negative effects if one drinks too much of the beverage.

As for me? I started writing this article while drinking a hot cup of coffee, but now my cup is empty. The buzz of caffeine alertness is gone, and I’m considering having a second cup. Or, perhaps to encourage creativity, I should just let my mind wander instead.

What about you? Do you find caffeine to be essential to a writer?

My morning writing session – the laptop and a cup of coffee