Finding Creativity Without Alcohol
I quit drinking a little over four years ago, after a decade of struggling with alcoholism. Quitting wasn’t easy. I struggled to even admit that I had a problem. Before committing to getting sober, I spent a lot of time going back and forth over whether I really wanted or needed to give up alcohol.
When I was debating sobriety with myself, I always looked for justifications to keep drinking. I desperately clung to any excuse I could come up with to put off sobriety, or even to give up on it entirely.
One of those excuses was that I needed alcohol to spark my creativity. It’s a common myth, and one that I really bought into back when I was a drinker.
More precisely, I believed that alcohol was the key to lowering my inhibitions enough to write. When I was sober, I’d get writer’s block, second-guess every sentence, and worry about how readers would respond before I’d even finished a first draft. When drunk, I’d stop stressing out and the words would just flow. At least, that’s the myth that I told myself.
The reality is that I actually wrote very little during all my years of drinking. Although alcohol lowered my inhibitions, it also made me lazy. I’d put off writing projects day after day until I had delayed them for entire years.
I’ve actually become far more prolific since getting sober. It’s no exaggeration to say that I now write more in a month than I used to in a year.
When I first quit drinking, I struggled a little with getting past all of my doubts and inhibitions while writing. However, with time, I’ve learned a few strategies to get into a free-flowing creative mindset without turning to alcohol.
Brainstorming and Rough Drafts
One of the absolute most important strategies that I use is to brainstorm and write rough drafts of almost everything I write.
When I was in school, I used to hate all of these “preliminary” steps. I always jumped straight to my final draft, editing as I went. I never understood that by skipping these steps, I was actually slowing myself down.
By separating brainstorming and rough drafts from the editing stage of writing, I essentially give myself permission to be sloppy. I don’t need to worry if my sentences are filled with typos, or if I write something stupid or cringeworthy, because I know that I’ll have a chance to edit it out later.
Brainstorming and writing rough drafts are all about getting into a creative mindset. I remind myself that readers will never see these early stages of my process, which allows me to drop my inhibitions and just write.
My full writing process goes back and forth between the “creative” mindset and a more “logical” mindset twice: from brainstorming to outlining, then from rough drafts to editing and proofreading.
Writing at Night
Another trick that really helps me to let my guard down and get the creative juices flowing is to write at night. There’s something about the night that has always helped me to escape from anxious feelings of self-critique. For me, the later the better.
Although not everyone writes best at night, I think that most people have certain times of the day that work best for them. Some people are just the opposite of me, doing their best work the moment that they wake up. I’m rarely able to write more than a few words until after lunch.
It’s worth experimenting with writing at different times of day until you find the one that works best for you. You may be surprised what a difference it makes.
When I’m feeling really stuck with my writing, it helps to push myself to write as fast as possible. Sometimes I’ll set a timer for five or ten minutes, and challenge myself to write as much as I can within that limit. The key is to focus only on quantity, not quality.
By putting an arbitrary time limit on myself, I can snap out of my inhibitions and just focus on getting words on the page. Of course, the writing that I do during this time is always pretty terrible. I would never jump straight to submitting or publishing it.
Instead, I typically use this as an exercise to lower my inhibitions and start thinking more creatively. It helps me snap out of worrying about having my writing perfectly polished. And, if I really love something that I wrote quickly, I can go back over it and edit into something more readable.
The last thing that I’ve discovered about creativity since getting sober is that it’s a skill that gets better with practice. Although it used to be hard for me to get into a creative mindset without booze, it’s gotten easier the more that I’ve done it.
Sure, there might be some people who are naturally creative and never doubt themselves. However, the vast majority of writers, artists, and other creators weren’t born more creative than everyone else. They simply practiced creating things day after day.
I try to write nearly every day to keep my creativity flowing. Sometimes I focus on fiction, other times essays, but I always try to at least write something. By making creativity a daily part of my life, I’ve learned to turn it on more easily, without needing alcohol as a catalyst.
There were a lot of hard things about getting sober, but losing my creativity wasn’t one of them. Four years after quitting drinking, I’m creating more than ever.