Stalking the Wild Muse: Writer Rituals & Habits

By Brenda Clough

MusemedA series exploring the props, habits, and drugs that fuel the writer’s productivity. Past, present and future! Look for BVC writers, plus other authors we know and love.

You remember how Lord Byron was mad, bad and dangerous to know? Writers frequently fly close to the flame. We always say it’s because we need it for inspiration, but people don’t always believe us, and sometimes they’re right — it’s just self-destructive impulsiveness.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge did opium. Baudelaire swore by marijuana, which is also said to be Stephen King’s inspiration. Many, many writers drink to excess, including Jack Kerouac, who died of liver disease, and Ernest Hemingway, who may have been using alcohol to self-medicate for other ailments. There are entire web pages devoted to writers who drank themselves into disaster, or who were fans of pot.

MartiniBut many more writers drink wisely. For example, E.B. White is on record as claiming to have never written a word while sober. Possibly you would rather keep martinis and Stuart Little in separate mental compartments, but White was true to his journalism roots, and newsmen famously keep liquor in a filing-cabinet drawer, locked. In my very first job it was one of my tasks to keep the stash of booze stocked! If you are able to use the sauce for inspiration only — and then sober up to actually do the writing — you may do all right. There are so many cases of walking the booze tightrope and its difficulties — the TV show Mad Men immediately comes to mind — I cannot list them here.

Writer friends have mentioned to me, however, the scourge of our modern day: the Internet. Between online games, captioned cat photos, Facebook, and obsessively checking one’s Amazon rankings, you can spend all day at your desk and never write a single word.  And then there is research.  Research is good! It helps you write good books! But not if it squeezes out all the actual writing. Once some years ago I stayed at a B&B in Athens.  I met a man there who was writing a novel about the Trojan war, and was in Greece doing research.  I was very impressed, until I learned that he had spent every summer here for the last seven years in this B&B doing research. He said that he was about ready to go spend some summers in Turkey, at the Hissarlik site. It has been a good couple decades now — I still haven’t seen that book. Obviously the research ate him alive.

My newest novel Speak to Our Desires is out exclusively from Book View Café.

I also have stories in Book View Café’s two steampunk anthologies, The Shadow Conspiracy and The Shadow Conspiracy II, as well as in BVC’s many other anthologies, including our latest, Beyond Grimm.




Stalking the Wild Muse: Writer Rituals & Habits — 8 Comments

  1. Knowing when enough research is enough is hard. A friend was working on a book about Romany. Two rival tribal leaders were on a daytime talk show. When it got to the chair throwing stage and they were shouting at each other in Romany my friend realized she understood their curses. She’d done enough research, time to write the book.

    My curse? I always find the perfect research book published the year after the book I needed it for came out.

    • Ah, the effects of research. I found out what reading lots of primary source — it scarcely mattered what — does to you when I was reading a crit of my story. The person wondered what sort of society carefully chaperoned princesses and let princes run wild.

      My first thought? “A normal one.”

  2. “Samuel Taylor Coleridge did opium”

    I must observe that he also did booze. Lots and lots of booze. Bottles of claret, and took his opium in the form of laudanum. True, he attributed all his problems to the opium — more romantic than a boozer — but for instance, when he describes withdrawal, it is clearly alcohol withdrawal, not opiate.

    (Theodore Dalrymple’s Romancing the Opiates delves into this. At length.)

  3. Balzac did coffee. In fact, he snorted it (seriously! I read it on the Internet!) rather the same way others snort little white powders these days. Then again, Catherine the Great was said to make her first pot of coffee in the morning from a whole pound of beans (at least she drank hers), which probably explains her stroke at the age of 67.

    But worldbuilding can become addictive, too, just ask Austin Tappan Wright (the Islandia universe).

  4. In the final final analysis — a good way to wind up this series — almost everything is allowable (especially if it does not involve criminal prosecution) as long as you can get the writing done. Even being convicted and thrown into jail is OK — ask Sir Thomas Malory or Casanova or Nelson Mandela. The minute your little rituals or habits get in the way of writing, it is a problem.

  5. I can’t write if I drink. I know many writers who say the same. E.B. White was of the old school, the journalists who kept a bottle in the bottom desk drawer.