Black Coffee: a writing junkie gets her fix

Coincidentally, today is both the first day of the Wisconsin Book Festival and National Coffee Day. It may as well be my birthday too, but no such luck. Instead, this seems like the perfect opportunity to talk about writing vices.

I like coffee.

And chai.

They fit into my life right now–mom, wife, doer of things, cleaner of virtually nothing were you to peak in my living room window and see the pile of clean laundry strewn about the couch, toys up and down the floor, trikes and shoes and tiny socks sprouting randomly wherever the cat walks letting out his pathetic empty-nest mrowl.

Coffee and tea and me.

When I started writing, I mean living through words as a means to get through the day, I was high on teenage hormones. I was a rage in my mind. I wanted something to harness the intensity and the longing I felt surging through every motion or stillness of every day. I came to poetry doubting myself, but relieved to be braced against something solid.

Notebooks filled with scrawl.

Moods and handwriting followed eachother with an unerring sense of conflict.

Carpe Diem, my brothers and sisters, we only have this one, paltry life to live so live without regrets.

I vacillated between sentimentality and idealism.

The notion of art was as intertwined with life as deeply as blood and spit. My friends shifted to the wholly creative and destructively thrilling.




I smoked my first cigarette. They made me sick–a fracture in thought.

Coffee gave me nerve.

Alice W. Flaherty writes about substance use in The Midnight Disease, “Writers have used many different types of drugs. In the distant past, writers generally did not distinguish between creative inspiration and religious inspiration; the same drugs were used to stimulate both.”

She goes on to say, “Modern writers have many more pharmacological options than the Delphic oracle and the Bacchantes. Hallucinogens (think Aldous Huxley and Anias Nin) and stimulants (think Stevenson, Freud, Sartre, Auden) are perhaps the most popular. The range of drugs used suggests that the direction in which the writer’s consciousness is altered does not matter much, as long as it is altered.”

For me, alcohol does no good noodling up with my ABCs. The only wonder drug I’ve found is caffeine–Flaherty’s stimulant package–black.

But of course, there is the hard way. Artists the world over are famous for their binges, their bargaining, and their booze. I can follow that bend in the road, trace the footsteps of Dylan Thomas, Dorothy Parker, Edgar Allen Poe, Jack Kerouac.

Stephen King admits his own struggle with substance abuse in his book On Writing wherein he says of his wife’s intervention, “I did think, though–as well as I could in my addled state–and what finally decided me was Annie Wilkes, the psycho nurse in Misery. Annie was coke, Annie was booze, and I decided I was tired of being Annie’s pet writer. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to work anymore if I quit drinking and drugging, but I decided (again, so far as I was able to decide anything in my distraught and depressed stat of mind) that I would trade writing for staying married and watching the kids grow up. If it came to that.

It didn’t, of course. The idea that creative endeavor and mind-altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time.”

But is it really a myth?

Or is writing it’s own kind of high?




About E. Victoria Flynn

E. Victoria Flynn is a mother and a writer living in Southern Wisconsin. Published in a variety of venues, Victoria is currently writing the first in a series of three fantasy novels based on Cornish folklore. When not taking part in a shrieking dance party or engrossed in her own little fictions, Victoria is keen on art, the natural world and people unafraid to explore their own brilliance.
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6 Responses to Black Coffee: a writing junkie gets her fix

  1. I love this, Victoria! I am drinking coffee right now! In other words, I can relate 🙂

  2. pennyjars says:

    Thanks, Rebecca! I’m clinking my morning cup to yours 🙂

  3. Without coffee I’d be sleeping instead of writing. Although it my sleepy states, I’ve sometimes written more honestly — although the spelling errors kill me.

  4. pennyjars says:

    I relate to that. Sometimes it takes all my energy just to make breakfast. When I’m too tired I write more–snarky?

    Thanks for your comment!

  5. This morning, I considered quitting coffee. But, I would miss the feeling of a warm cup in my hands. Something about the heat affects me as much as the caffeine.

    Lovely post.

    • pennyjars says:


      I just saw something on Twitter last night that confirms the “hot cup in the hands” theory. I was too tired to read, but I’ll try to uncover it. I agree, warming my hands around a hot cup is part of the intoxication.

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