Is there anything worse than writer’s block? Whether you write fiction for fun or copy for clients, the dreaded writer’s block can strike at any time. You can stare at that blank document for what feels like hours, yet the words just don’t seem to come. It’s been well-documented that this creative slowdown is a real condition, with plenty of studies into what causes it and what can help reduce it. Books have been churned out on the subject and you’ll find countless articles teaching you how to ‘get over’ that writer’s block, but what if I told you it’s as simple as having a glass of wine (or two)?
Now, I completely understand that not everyone is a drinker and so, if that’s the case, I’d highly recommend opting for the dozens of other strategies out there. However, if you don’t mind a nice glass of adult grape juice, then I’m about to cure all of your writer’s block woes.
My highly scientific study
I knew that if I wanted to present my theory to the masses, I was going to have to undergo a highly scientific study that would prove that drinking a glass or two of wine made me more creative and shook off that writer’s block. So, I did what any good scientist would do and became a test subject. I gathered my necessary equipment in the form of a crate of wine and some blank Google Docs, and I took one for the team. There are actual scientific studies on this, which I’ll come back to shortly.
I’d always thought that drinking wine seemed to turn on a switch in my brain, which made me feel more creative. From the moment I took my first sip, it felt like a thousand lightbulbs went off in my head at once. However, I’d never tested whether this was just because I was feeling creative anyway or if the wine was helping lubricate my tired brain. Being the selfless person that I am, I decided to try writing a couple of times a week sober and a couple of times a week having had one or two glasses of wine. I also tried writing after a bottle of wine… That one was a mistake, but I’ll come back to that.
Writing without wine
Considering this is my general state at work, 99% of the time, I already knew what was going to happen sober. As many writers will know, we can go through stages of feeling inspired and then stages of feeling like we want to headbutt our computer screens. I spent most of this time writing lists of what I wanted to write and procrastinating, more than actually writing anything down. However, I also had client deadlines to meet and so I did manage to get a few thousand words done — eventually. Luckily, the ideas for these were already set in stone and so I didn’t really need to get super creative with them. I just need to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and do what I do best.
When I tried to push myself to think of something unique or different, say for a Medium article, nothing really came to me. I wrote loads of ideas down, but I couldn’t really think about what to write for them. I had the dreaded writer’s block. Perhaps this was due to already writing all of the client stuff or maybe it’s just because I needed a glass of wine…
Writing with wine
The next part of my highly scientific experiment was to try writing with wine. I’m not a huge red wine fan, even though it’s supposed to be the writer’s drink of choice, so I poured myself a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and opened up a blank Google Doc. Within about 30 seconds of opening the blank document (and about three minutes after my first sip), my fingers were on fire. Weirdly, I wasn’t writing any of the ideas that I’d spent the last couple of days procrastinating over. I ended up typing an article on how to fall back in love with your business. I have no idea where the inspiration for it came from, but I’m going to guess my subconscious.
I kept on with this experiment for a couple of nights, finding that each time I was actually writing more and more. But there was a limit. I discovered that the first glass of wine got me really thinking about what I wanted to write. The second glass just made things flow so much better. The third… Well, that was the limit. I read back some of the stuff I’d written after more than two glasses of wine and, quite frankly, it’s embarrassing. As for the article I’d written once I’d accidentally on purpose (for scientific reasons) drunk a whole bottle of wine… It ended up in the bin. And it was over 5,000 words long!
Write Drunk, Edit Sober
This quote, which is often misattributed to Ernest Hemmingway, is actually by Peter De Vries and goes like this:
“Sometimes I write drunk and revise sober, and sometimes I write sober and revise drunk. But you have to have both elements in creation — the Apollonian and the Dionysian, or spontaneity and restraint, emotion and discipline.”
While it’s thought that some of the greatest writers liked a drink or two (and plenty of other vices to boot), is there any science behind it? Well, a little bit. Back in 2017, a study was published in the Consciousness and Cognition Journal which seemed to prove that alcohol is linked with creativity. However, it was a limited study with 89 participants — slightly better than my own scientific experiment, admittedly.
Participants in the study had to play a simple word association game, which saw those who had consumed a bottle of beer performing better overall. They were also asked to come up with as many creative uses as they could think of for everyday objects, like an umbrella. Again, those who had drunk the bottle of beer did better. The key was that those who did better were only ‘mildly intoxicated’ and not flat-out wasted. Again, something that matches with my own experiment.
Another study, back in 2012 and for the same journal, found some similar results. Jennifer Wiley and her colleagues from the University of Illinois decided to test their theory out on a group of 21 to 30-year-olds who normally drank socially. Some were given vodka and cranberry until their blood alcohol level was around 0.75 and others were kept sober. They then performed a series of creative tasks with the group. Again, those who had consumed the alcohol seemed to perform better and faster than those who hadn’t.
What this study also found was that those who drunk felt as though they had an “Aha” moment of inspiration that helped them think more creatively. A bit like when I felt as though a thousand lightbulbs had gone off in my head at once. Maybe I’m more scientific than I think?
Of course, as with anything related to alcohol, moderation is key. As I quickly found out with my little experiment, there is a limit (and mine is two glasses of wine). However, if you’re feeling the dreaded writer’s block kick in and you’ve got a nice bottle in the house… It’d be rude not to give it a try, right?