Forgive me, but I’m laughing so hard I can hardly write this. I just saw the results of a Dunkin’ Donuts survey of 4,700 U.S. professionals and learned that writers and editors are near the top of the list of people who depend on coffee to get them through their workday. Scientists and lab technicians head the list, followed by marketing and public relations professionals, education administrators, and then editors and writers.
There are fifteen professions in the list, and so this puts writers right up there near the top. I found this funny because I just finished writing a book entitled Coffee: Nectar of the Gods . . . Or Dangerous Brew? which makes the same point, namely that many writers find coffee a boost to their creative output.
The survey also revealed that attorneys prefer their coffee black; human resource workers take it with cream and sugar; and writers prefer it flavored. I have my own twist, I almost always have my coffee black but with Japanese matcha, which adds a healthy dose of antioxidants and theanine, taking the edge off the caffeine.
Because I know so many attorneys are writers, and many of them have hopes of publishing a book someday, I thought it might be interesting to discuss a few writers who have used coffee to help them write their books.
Marcel Proust, the prolific French novelist and author of Remembrance of Things Past (A la recherche du temps perdu), would complain to his servant if she didn’t have his beloved coffee ready every day when he wanted it. When he traveled, the one necessity he took was coffee. When he wrote, which he frequently did from bed, he would have hot coffee brought to bedside to aid in his compositions. Two cups a day was usually sufficient, but it had to be very strong. He used it as a stimulant to creativity and drank it before he set pen to paper. During a considerable period of his life, coffee was almost his only sustenance, and he drank it with copious amounts of milk, up to a quart a day.
As Marcus Boon reports in The Road of Excess, Jack Kerouac drank coffee to help him write his novels. Allen Ginsberg observed that Kerouac, who was his friend, relied heavily on coffee to stimulate his creativity. Through the excessive use of coffee, Kerouac was able to write his breakout novel, On the Road, in three weeks. Again relying on coffee, he wrote one of his most wonderful novels, The Subterraneans, in three days. Truman Capote said of On the Road, “That’s not writing, that’s typing.” The Subterraneans is still one of my favorite books, marred by fast writing, perhaps, but chock full of romance and ingenious turns of phrase.
Balzac, another prolific French novelist, is probably the writer best known for his use, and abuse, of coffee. He drank it thick as mud and required it every evening (he wrote at night) to stimulate his creativity. He was so enamored of the beverage that he spent considerable sums on it and had a huge coffee pot in his office. He even wrote a treatise on coffee, Traité des excitants modernes (1838), in which he confesses, as no writer before or since has done, how he relies on coffee to generate ideas for his novels.
There is no question, however, that coffee contributed to Balzac’s demise. His personal doctor and good friend, Jean-Baptiste Naquart, warned him after the writer collapsed one day, that coffee would be the end of him. But Balzac found it impossible to take his doctor’s advice and cut back on the amount of coffee he consumed.
Today, we know that it is not necessary to drink as much as Balzac did. The cognitive-enhancing properties of coffee do not lead to tolerance, so that one or two cups a day will continue to have the same stimulating effect on the mind. We also know a great deal about the advantages and disadvantages of coffee consumption, including newly discovered information about how caffeine interacts with our DNA.
The book Coffee: Nectar of the Gods . . . Or Dangerous Brew? discusses all this, including the latest information about genes that control coffee consumption. These include genes for the speed at which we metabolize caffeine; addiction genes; and preference genes, which control how much coffee a coffee drinker will consume each day. The book also discusses other writers who relied on coffee to help them create their masterpieces, including James Joyce, Ayn Rand, and William Faulkner.
And with that being said, I’m going to head out to my local coffee shop and have a triple espresso.