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Ever wonder what it takes to be a writer? Well, in this article, we’re going to take a look at some of the prerequisites that are damn well mandatory when setting the written word down for all to read. Let’s begin.
Writing almost practically demands late nights. With clients in other time zones and deadlines being down to the wire, it’s pretty much a guarantee that you’re going to be burning some midnight oil.
However, late nights are expected when you’re trying to determine what it takes to be a writer. If you ask me, late nights are exactly why I became a writer. When the rest of the world is sound asleep, I am prodigiously typing out the next award-winning article of the year. You’d be surprised how peaceful it can be without the distractions and noise pollution of our hectic world.
Long walks in solitude at night have always been a favorite, as I can mumble story ideas to myself and let the details of the night inspire me. Plus, there’s cute animals that you don’t ordinarily see—watching a hungry skunk on my porch made me curious as to where they live and whether they’re carrion eaters or not. Next thing you know, that same hungry skunk is making its way into the two most recent sentences in this very article.
That being said, it’s 2:21am and I’m not going to be done until the sun comes up. So it goes…
Forget 6-pack abs and a trim waistline–Is there nothing sexier than being a writer?
Ok, I kid. I must be honest—being a writer isn’t going to get you laid unless you meet those sapiosexuals out there. But writing does raise you above the competition when vying for the opposite sex that is looking “your type.” Having a freelance writing career is risky business, and nothing increases arousal quite like risk. Don’t believe me? Read You Are Now Less Dumb by Dave McRaney and you’ll be, uh, less dumb about the correlation between sexual readiness and the perceived danger of your endeavors. But, in order to be a writer, you might have forgo copulation with anyone other than yourself. At least until you’re swimming in royalties like Scrouge McDuck.
Conversely, there’s always utilizing celibacy to your advantage. Napoleon Hill called this idea “Sublimating the Sex Urge” in his book Think and Grow Rich. All this not-getting-laid can be funneled into your creative abilities as you strive for the status and attention that comes from devoting yourself to the written word. Those same carnal desires can fuel your output as you turn ephemeral animal instinct into concrete words that any person with half-way decent vision can take in. And that at least increases your chances with tout le monde jolie, though having a French accent and nice cologne can’t hurt, either.
“You see, I think drugs have done some good things for us. I really do. And if you don’t believe drugs have done good things for us, do me a favor. Go home tonight. Take all your albums, all your tapes and all your CDs and burn them. ‘Cause you know what, the musicians that made all that great music that’s enhanced your lives throughout the years were rrreal f*cking high on drugs.”
– Bill Hicks, comedian
My friends have a funny saying about writing: it’s a PSA, which is short for “Paid Stoned Activity”. Of all the jobs out there, writing allows you to get a f*cked up as you want to—as long as you nail your assignments, that is.
If you wanna have rockstar output, you gotta party like a rockstar. Well, partly. Writers do have deadlines and you are solely responsible for your output most of the time. Adding Parkinson’s Law into the mix and your career begins to look inevitably like a recipe for drug use (and abuse).
Anyone who wants a life that somehow resembles the norm while committing their life to the written word is in for a surprise (unless you’re E.B. White). Studies show that those who pull irregular hours are more likely to be susceptible (or eager) to drug abuse. Hunter S. Thompson’s prodigious output was certainly driven by his drug use, saying that drugs have always worked for him.
Drugs do temporarily enhance or purposely handicap ourselves, summoning different versions of our personas during all the parts of the writing process. I’ll admit that I’ve been so handicapped at one time or another by various substances that I was rendered as useful as a California Raisin paper weight. However, the stimulation and insights I’ve tripped over have revealed plotlines and new approaches that I wouldn’t have thought otherwise. Just like The White Album, drugs can do good things.
Not all drugs are created equal, however. Cigarettes are a nootropic cognitive enhancer that also doubles as a slow form of suicide. Then again, I get the placebo high of feeling cool, so there’s that, too. Marijuana tends to lend itself well to writing, especially during the initial planning stages before setting down to really work—however I wouldn’t use it for editing and revisions, as ummmm… what were we talking about? And where’s my lighter? Finally, booze tends to make me overconfident for writing, but it certainly makes writing more fun than it should be. I think this explains the writings of Hemingway—he may have just been hungover most of the time.
Similarly, you should bear in mind that the number one drug out there is the widely-available and socially-acceptable stimulant known as caffeine. Yes, coffee is a drug. Heck, I’m drinking it right now in lieu of sleep. If I wasn’t drinking this day-old cup of goodness right now, you might never see this article. Even by his own admission, Balzac’s prolific output would not be possible. Take that, Madame Bovary.
It should be noted that other stimulants, like methamphetamine and benzedrine, may have created Jack Kerouac’s entire output, but he also died at 40. Experimenting with substances should be measured with their long-term effects on your body/mind, so at least take a trip to Erowid to know what you are getting yourself into.
That being said, one of the best stimulants that’s worked for me is Modafinil. It’s used for narcoleptics and shift workers, but it is also is a favorite amongst Silicon Valley types and college students as a nootropic that mirrors the effects of (the fictional) NZT from the movie Limitless. From my experience, its effects are like magic to my output, increasing focus while decreasing my need for constant distraction. Your mileage may vary, so maybe it is just better to stick with a cup of Folgers.
Rock and Roll
Like the cited Bill Hicks quote above, you’re gonna need some tunes to write. Stephen King writes to Metallica and other hard rock staples; Bukowski used to write to Wagner and Sibelius. Whatever your taste is, it’s helpful to have a soundtrack that fits your mental atmosphere or creates a mood that you want to aspire to.
For me, I’ve experimented with a number of background sounds. For instance, right now I’m listening to the transcendental raga trio of my refrigerator and a fluorescent light’s hum tethered to the metronome of this cheap clock in the living room. Ambient music, especially from the likes of composers Brian Eno or William Basinski, offer a “sonic wallpaper” that slips a roofie to my inner editor and let’s my subconscious get to work. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the complexity of musicians like Conlon Nancarrow and Rahsaan Roland Kirk can inspire your prose to new heights (albeit, schizophrenic heights). I encourage your experimentation.
If you’re truly into biofeedback and how sound plays into that, try listening to binaural beats with headphones. Two nearly-identical sine waves beat against one another in stereo, creating an overwhelming but soothing pulse that’s created in your skull. Besides cutting out the noise, you’ll notice physiological symptoms like your teeth vibrating in sympathy to the beating, complete body relaxation, or spontaneously breaking out into laughter. And if it doesn’t work, at the very least you can imagine what it feels like to be beamed up to a spaceship, you crazy psychonaut.
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Congratulations. If you’ve managed to make it this far, you may have what it takes to be a writer after all. One solid piece of advice I can give to you, dear reader, is don’t take acid while writing because if you dooooooooo ohhhhhh noooo itttttt’ssss taaaaaaakkkkking hoooooldddddddddd…
Just kidding. See you in the fourth dimension.