BenSobieck Presents: 5 Things I Learned About Writing From Giving Up Caffeine
1) My Creativity Depended on Coffee - Until it Didn't
I love coffee, and few things pair better with it than writing. A hot, steamy dose of caffeine before sitting down at the keyboard greases gears of the mind as well as the spirit. Even the mug plays a part, preparing my cold fingers to telegraph the testimonies of invisible characters and reports from worlds afar.
That is, until one day, a few weeks ago, I ran out of coffee at home.
Egads! What ever shall I do?
In a perfect world, or just one not inhabited by a toddler and a pregnant spouse, I'd go to the grocery store and pick up some more. But that is not the world I live in. On this particular week, the last of 2017, three words dictated my agenda above all others: daycare is closed.
And when daycare is closed, you don't go to the grocery store. At least not until the predetermined grocery run. That is Friday. This is Tuesday.
You, sir, are not going to drink coffee.
You, sir, also have writing deadlines for your regular job in publishing, plus your other projects.
You, sir, will have to make do.
So I did. I went cold turkey. Somehow, all the deadlines were met. The sun still rose. I even started a short story markedly different from my usual groove. Good stuff. So good, in fact, that I decided to see how long I could stretch this anomaly out.
When Designated Grocery Run Day came around, I skipped the coffee aisle, crossed my fingers and prepared for the worst. It never came.
2) Coffee Enables Exhaustion
I used to pound coffee from the time I got up in the mornings through to the afternoons, and sometimes in the evenings. I justified this copious intake in a variety of ways, from the projects on my table to needing a pick-me-up before chores to the general stresses of living. I could push myself as long and as hard as I needed to, and I enjoyed the productivity.
However, those first few coffee-free, surprisingly fruitful days begged a question: What if coffee had nothing to do with my productivity?
I had no idea about the answer. I drank coffee heavily for years, and I couldn't say with certainty that my productivity depended on it. There was nothing to compare it against.
Going cold turkey made me realize where my natural boundaries were when it came to feeling tired or worn out. I couldn't blur those lines with caffeine. As a result, I could better recognize when I could speed up and slow down.
That's not as bad as it sounds. When you're more in tune with yourself, you don't overdo it. Simply put, coffee enables exhaustion.
3) Less Coffee = Better Sleep = Less Sleep
This meant an immediate improvement in my sleeping. Without caffeine coursing through my cortex, I gave myself a chance to completely go under with my sleep. When I hit the pillow, I'm out. There is no in between, no messing around on the phone, no putzing.
This deeper, better quality sleep sent me popping like a toaster waffle in the mornings. I didn't feel like I needed coffee, and my energy level felt more consistent throughout the day. I get more done, and that includes writing for magazines at work or for my other creative projects.
As a result, crazy as it might sound, I run on fewer hours of sleep than I did when I drank coffee. I can stay up late knowing that REM is only a few minutes away.
4) Jimi Hendrix Wasn't a Great Guitar Player Because of LSD
With this in mind, I started questioning coffee's role in my previous written works. Would it have been better or worse with or without coffee? I can't say, but it did bring to light how much more credit I'd given coffee than it probably deserved.
Never was there a brilliant writer who owed a debt to coffee. The writer was always brilliant. Coffee may have helped grease the skids, but the swill doesn't turn hacks into heroes. It doesn't even reveal talent, as some suggest. It just perks you up, the same way revving a car's engine doesn't change the vehicle itself.
After all, most writers are "born to write," right? They "have to write." So what's coffee got to do with it?
Put another way, Jimi Hendrix ingested a dozen DEA evidence lockers' worth of drugs in his lifetime. Is that why he'll forever be known for his guitar work? I think not. He had the talent first, the drugs second.
Don't dilute your own talents, writerfolk. You can be a tortured soul just like your heroes and still be as Straight Edge as a ruler.
5) Coffee Forges Culture Between Writers
Writing is a lonely exercise, so any thread between one keyboard and another is precious. While writers may not live in the same parts of the world, write in the same genre, have the same interests or even use the same language, coffee is the one, unifying constant. That's what a culture is, and it's the best thing writerdom has going for it.
I didn't realize that until I gave the stuff up, and I miss that piece. I'll get over it, but right now it feels like stepping away from something rare. There's a bit of Impostor Syndrome when I head to the altar of writing, the coffee shop, and drink herbal tea instead of a 40-ounce jitter jug.
If I go back to coffee, it'll be because of that. There's a comfort in the ritual of making a cup at home before jockeying the keys, knowing that this is a process enjoyed by generations past and present.
That's why I'm not ending this by suggesting you give up coffee, too. It's about more than a buzz, and you've got to be ready for that.
For everyone else, stock up on herbal teas and let the good times steep.
★ ★ ★
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