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Alcohol is really bad for creativity. The end.

Liz Horsman, a songwriter, psychotherapist, sobriety blogger and presenter of the The Voice of Calm podcast shares her thoughts on alcohol and creativity.



Find a booze lover and tell them that alcohol is bad for creativity and I bet they will say something like,

“But some of the best writers were big drinkers!” 

It’s true. There is a long and sad history of creative souls who were also addicts. Does that actually make you want to reach for a bottle?  Uncomfortable association, isn’t it. Ernest Hemingway was a big drinker. He loved all the drinks – wine, whiskey, rum – anything that gave him warm relief at the end of a days writing. But this is what he actually said about alcohol and creativity.

 “The only time it isn’t good for you is when you write … You have to do that cold.”*

He went on to say,  

“But it always helps my shooting.” 

So there you go. Got a gun? Get drinking! … Dangerous though his pastimes may have been, clearly, Hemingway thought as I do – alcohol hinders creativity. 

I was a keen creative drinker

I used to drink wine most nights and as a songwriter I definitely saw alcohol as part of my process. I now look back on that version of me: slaving over a hot computer, regularly sipping Pinot Grigio, slightly distracted by how quickly I’m drinking, and I want to give myself a stern talking to. Here’s what I’d say,

 “Oi!! Horsman!! What are you doing? Creativity loves endurance. Creativity loves focus and abstract thinking. It does not love alcohol! YOU love alcohol and any excuse to drink more!”

Glad I don’t have a time machine because I am harsh! 

Okay, so, after the first couple of sips of a glass of wine or beer you may feel a slight relaxation of your superego: the bit of you that likes control and rules. This might in turn give creative bit of your brain permission to run free. But by the end of the glass you have 2 choices: 

  1. Keep on drinking and dumb down your mind, reducing creativity.
  2. Stop drinking and then stop working as soon as yawning overtakes you, which it soon will.

Alcohol, the cunning house guest (with a huge family)

That’s the problem with alcohol. It’s a very cunning house guest. It promises to bring creativity, fresh ideas and a new perspective. You’re fine with that. That sounds ideal but in fact, alcohol turns up with a whole load more than you bargained for…

Firstly there’s its ugly cousin, Lethargy, she’s a lazy cow who just wants to eat and sleep. And then you’ve got the terrible twins, Distraction and Diversion. They will do anything other than the job at hand and to hell with your deadline. There’s also Thirst, Tiredness, Mistakes, Clumsiness, Loudness and so many more awful guests. You honestly don’t remember inviting any of them. 

And let’s not forget alcohol’s best mate, ‘Shit Idea’. Shit Idea is with alcohol so often that you hardly even notice he’s there but he most certainly is. Pale and sickly looking, Shit Idea is always loitering, ready to get in on your conversations. How many times have you had an enthusiastic chat in a pub, made big plans even, only to realise that it was actually a Shit Idea!? 

Why would you invite all that into your creative space? If you think alcohol is going to help you find a short cut to a eureka moment then you’re wrong. It’s only going to trip you up.

Creativity requires perseverance

Forget short cuts. Good ideas come out of perseverance and focus. No, not sitting for hours staring at a blank note book. By perseverance I mean continually going back to your creative space and trying again. Take lots of breaks, go for walks in nature if you can or just round the block a couple of times. Don’t give up when ideas don’t come quickly. Have faith. Persevere!

Creativity likes relaxation

The liberating mechanism of alcohol – the way it allows the mind to stumble about without focus, is actually more simply achieved with relaxation. Try doing something that will take your mind away from obsessing over a solution. For example, if you have been agonising over a tagline for a campaign or the title of an article, try doodling, lying on the floor, yoga-ing or just deep breathing. When you least expect it your subconscious mind will solve the problem. That’s how it works best. 

Creativity needs focus

When you have an amazing idea, apply your focus to really honing it. Make sure that you are as free from distraction as possible. Switch off your phone. Wait until the kids are out or in bed and never have the TV on while you work.

Let go of your attachment to the outcome. Sure you have a deadline and I’m sure you want to deliver something great but if you are so focused on finishing then you won’t allow yourself to be fully engaged in the process. On some level you have to let go of whether this thing is going to work and just allow it to happen. Not always easy but who said creativity had to be easy?

Creativity loves quantity

The best way to think of GREAT ideas is to come up with loads and loads of average ideas. If you’re writing a book then write something new every day. It doesn’t have to be amazing but the fact that you are writing will signal to your brain:   Here is an open channel through which ideas can flow. Now bring on the ideas! 

The best way to think of GREAT ideas is to come up with loads and loads of average ideas. If you’re writing a book then write something new every day. It doesn’t have to be amazing but the fact that you are writing will signal to your brain:   Here is an open channel through which ideas can flow. Now bring on the ideas! 

If you are making music then keep programming, singing, writing lyrics. Nothing comes from nothing. You have to do, do, do and do it again. That’s the only way to really create greatness. 

Let go of your habits and embrace the unknown

If you have been labouring under the illusion that alcohol is benefitting your creative process then you are not alone but you can get ahead of the game by taking a break or quitting for good. When I stopped drinking alcohol for good, I started writing some of my best songs, I created a blog and I am currently writing a book. If I have a problem now then it is lack of time to complete all my ideas. It’s definitely not lack of creativity!

*Ernest Hemingway in a letter to Ivan Kushkin. 

You can find more from Liz here:
@thealcoholspell Instagram and
www.thealcoholspell.com website.

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