I’ve been getting into whiskey lately. Now and then I’ll pour a glass of Maker's Mark and attempt to blend the perfect Old Fashioned. Haven’t quite dialed it in yet, but I’m getting close. There’s something relaxing about a stiff drink after a full day of writing and client calls.
The other day I decided to try something different. It was just after six, and I still had one more article to write. Feeling drained and uninspired, I poured myself a drink and tackled my final assignment.
Hemingway used to say “write drunk, edit sober” so I thought I’d give it a shot (pun intended). I sat down with my Old Fashioned and started drafting a quick outline.
Next thing I knew, I was three pages in and creativity was flowing. I cranked out a quality piece of writing in the time it took to finish my drink. It got me thinking about alcohol’s impact on writing and creativity.
It turns out there’s quite a bit of scientific research behind this topic. I found an infographic that broke down exactly how alcohol stimulates the brain while writing. To my surprise, booze has been shown to spark creativity.
This doesn’t mean you should raid the bars and come home expecting to write a New York Times bestseller. However, a drink or two might help you find the creativity sweet spot. According to The Expert Editor, “Alcohol has been shown to depress certain responses in the brain” and causes unusual connections that can be helpful for creative tasks like writing.
A recent study asked 40 men to complete word puzzles. Half of the participants were sober, and the other half had a couple of drinks.
The sober guys took 32 percent longer to solve the problems. And the real kicker is that the impaired group solved more of the puzzles correctly. So it looks like the key to writing faster might be a glass of bourbon after all.
Am I suggesting writers drink their way through their words? Absolutely not. On a serious note, my whiskey experiment was a reminder of how the inner critic and mental flow can impact writing speed and quality. Here’s what I did.
I Shut Out my Inner Critic
The mind can help you create your best work, but it can also sabotage your ability to put words on a page. I’ve found that shutting off the inner critic is the key to speed and quality work. How? Just relax and write.
A glass of bourbon reinforced the importance of writing in a relaxed but focused state. It’s nearly impossible to write clearly while fighting off negative thoughts. I silenced the negative self-talk and allowed my ideas to make it to the page.
I Used Freewriting to Enter a Flow State
In The Writer’s Process, Ann Janzer discusses the importance of freewriting as a practice to enter a flow state of writing and explore new ideas. Freewriting is just the act of putting ideas down on paper with no formal structure or expectations.
If the ideas suck, throw them away. If anything good comes from it, use it for something. Freewriting helped me shut out my inner critic and put the pen to paper.
When I start a new client project, I think of it as a freewriting exercise. I don’t set any expectations for the piece, which helps me write faster and more creatively. Once I have the content, it’s easy to revise and turn it into something.
This article started as several sentences scribbled on a few pieces of paper in a coffee shop. A few revisions later and I had something that looked more like a blog post.
I added a few subheadings, rearranged a few paragraphs, and deleted several rambling thoughts. Despite what you’re thinking, I wrote this one completely sober.
This technique has helped me improve my writing speed dramatically.
A Few Final Thoughts
It’s important to kill negative self-talk and get into a flow state to write better. Here are a few more thoughts from the pros.
Jessica Mehta is a professional writer who I’ve worked with on several projects over the last couple of years. When I asked her about her process, she said, “For me writing speed is a combination of typing 101 WPM, having an editor review every piece so I don't have to worry about typos, and having a specific financial goal to reach each workday.”
Freelance writer Kali Greff wrote, “My number one trick to getting the writing flow going is getting after it first thing in the morning, even before I’ve had coffee or breakfast. When I’m not in a ‘fasting’ mode, I tend to entrench myself in overthinking or negative self-talk.”
What are your best tips for writing fast, producing high-quality content, and entering a flow state?