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Why caffeine fuels writing

In college, I learned that Honoré de Balzac drank cup after cup of black coffee each day. That’s probably because he didn’t have Diet Coke.

Why do writers take to caffeine like musicians take to weed? Why are you unable to find a table at Starbucks because all of them are taken by writers pounding away on their MacBook Pros? (And why don’t you see many MacBook Pros at McDonald’s? They have coffee and free WiFi too. But you see old Dells and Acers, some with tape on the side to hold the LCD panel together.) What is it about the combination of oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen atoms (along with that evil, evil aspartame we dump in it to make it drinkable) that makes it necessary for writing?

As a caffeine addict, I have a few ideas.

There isn’t enough time in the day to write.

Most of us who write have office jobs along with family and household responsibilities. Add to that the time we spend answering our email, maintaining our blogs, keeping up with social media, reading, and editing and reviewing other people’s work. And then there’s that pesky time-waster called sleep.

How do we find time to write? Caffeine to the rescue! A can of Diet Coke or a shot of espresso can buy you an extra hour of writing time. (Of course, you’ll need another Diet Coke or espresso shot to get you through the morning, and another when that wears off, and still another when your blood sugar crashes at 2:00 p.m.) But as long as you keep your caffeine level high, you can keep working!

Being wired makes us more aware.

To be good writers, we need to be good observers. We need to pay attention to the details of environment and human behavior, so we can use them to bring our writing to life. And what better way to improve our acuity than to stimulate our nervous system almost to the point of explosion!

We need an addiction, and caffeine is the only legal and socially acceptable one.

Perhaps it is a consequence of reading Ernest Hemingway, William S. Burroughs, and Hunter S. Thompson as teenagers, but we writers want to think of ourselves as standing slightly outside of society so we can observe it clearly. We want to see ourselves as edgy and hip. But we also don’t want to go to prison or die in a car crash or from an overdose. Again, caffeine to the rescue!

Caffeine is the only socially acceptable drug. You can get fired from a company for failing a drug test, but every company has at least two or three coffee machines. You can’t smoke at most restaurants, but every restaurant has a soda machine where you can get all the refills you want. Your family will send you to rehab if you have a drinking problem. But if your drinking problem is Starbucks, they’ll send you gift cards for your birthday.

We’d rather do what we love than listen to hypochondriacs.

But isn’t caffeine dangerous? Aren’t there lab tests that show if you force feed a rat 40 liters of Diet Coke at one time and shove a Mentos down its throat, it will explode?

Yes, ingesting caffeine is dangerous, but so are most things we do. Every day, I drive a 2,700-pound (1,225-kilogram) rolling death machine down our local streets. (Yesterday, one of the residents of our city drove such a vehicle into a power pole, which caused our busiest intersection to be shut down for two days for repairs.)

Yes, caffeine has a lethal dosage for humans. So do water and oxygen. (Of course, not having any water and oxygen is lethal too.)

It is better to eat right and exercise, but everybody has a weakness. As long as that weakness doesn’t jeopardize your family, your job, your freedom, or your life, why deny yourself something that gives you pleasure? For us, writing gives us pleasure — as well as the caffeinated beverages of our choice. So, drink up! We have writing to do!

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