Admit it: you’ve got a cup of coffee in front of you right now.
As you sip that steaming foam of goodness, close your eyes and ask yourself the following questions.
Why am I drinking this?
Seriously, why am I drinking this?
A precious few writers might be able to give answers with substance. But the rest of us will probably just shrug and say, “It tastes good” before taking another blissful swig.
For sure, a nice beverage brings comfort to a writer facing a deadline. However, beyond the pleasure of our taste buds, we need to find more compelling reasons for the drinks that we choose. Different drinks have distinct effects, both good and bad. If we don’t watch what we sip—or, indeed, how often we sip it—the effects on our health and our writing will be undeniable. Now that would be tough to swallow, wouldn’t it?
In this article, it’s mugs and glasses galore as I take the drinks out of the fridge and into your consciousness. Having done my homework on the nutrition side of things, I present to you the physiological effects of beverages we tend to sip while working. I’ll tell you which drinks keep you sharp, which drinks stimulate your ideas, and which ones are, well, just plain trouble.
Thirsty for the facts? Let’s dive right in!
Let’s start with that half-empty (or, perhaps, entirely empty) mug on your table. Was that decaf, by any chance?
There’s no denying it: Coffee is a sentimental favorite among writers. How can we start the creative process without the thunderous sound of beans grinding or that familiar aroma wafting around the workspace?
Well, it turns out that we can. Research suggests that a cup of coffee doesn’t actually boost creativity (gasp!). According to a 2020 study, 200mg of caffeine—in other words, one strong cup of coffee—has no significant impact on the ability to think of diverse, innovative ideas.
So, if you’ve been leaning on that cappuccino to help you come up with some killer pitches, you may want to drink something else. (And no, the solution is NOT to drink more and more coffee. Excessive caffeine can mess up your heartbeat!)
If coffee doesn’t help you think outside the box, what does it actually do? While one strong cup has no effect on divergent thinking, it does improve convergent thinking (which entails coming up with one particular solution to a problem).
Aside from helping you stay alert, that one cup of coffee can keep you focused enough to get the “correct answer.” For writers, this could be the missing detail or transition that holds a paragraph together. Coffee, then, can help you find that final piece that your composition needs.
Conclusion? Keep drinking that cup of Joe while bearing in mind what it’s good for. While it appears to have no bearing on creative thinking, coffee can keep you focused on the task at hand while also helping you arrive at singular solutions for certain problems.
Honestly, I’m still reeling from that myth-buster about coffee. Perhaps, to make myself feel better, I’ll order the next thing on the menu.
While I had always associated coffee with the writing process, I never thought about tea in the same regard. Big mistake. Tea is actually a great drink for writers, and some might argue that it’s even better for the writing process.
You see, unlike coffee, tea has been proven to boost multiple aspects of creativity. A 2018 study reported that tea-drinking participants performed better in a semantic task than those who drank water. The task, by the way, was to come up with “cool and attractive” names for a ramen shop. Doesn’t this remind you of the article titles and subheadings that you have to come up with? Get me some Earl Grey right now!
On second thought, I’ll take green tea instead. Besides boosting creativity, this superfood improves brain function and increases energy. Writers can also consider ginger tea (great for the memory), rhodiola tea (decreases mental fatigue), and turmeric tea (activates higher levels of cognitive functioning) to get them through their next assignment.
The kicker? Take a look at this formidable list of certified tea lovers: Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, Agatha Christie, George Orwell. Get the picture?
Maya Angelou, however, might have other ideas.
The esteemed poet had certain rituals to get her day going: renting a hotel room, keeping a Bible, dictionary, and thesaurus by her side—and taking a drink that was neither tea nor coffee.
“I might have it at 6:15 AM, just as soon as I get in,” Dr. Angelou said in a 1990 interview. “But usually, it’s about eleven o’clock when I’ll have a glass of sherry.”
Interesting. So, if it weren’t for the strong wine out of Spain, the world might not have gotten I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Was this merely superstition, or was there a science behind Dr. Angelou’s routine?
Get your wine glasses ready because alcohol does have its perks for writers. You know that relaxed, even audacious feeling that you get after grabbing a few drinks? That’s your brain decreasing your working memory and lowering its defenses.
As a result, your inner consciousness is unleashed, and you start drawing new connections which lead to fresh perspectives. (Does this explain the whole chapter that you wrote on your last bender?)
Of course, the key phrase there is “a few drinks.” Unfortunately, alcoholic beverages tend to shut down our basic ability to count. So here’s a friendly tip: two pints of beer or two glasses of wine are enough to stimulate your powers of imagination. If you drink in excess of that, not only will you miss out on the cognitive benefits, but you’ll probably figure in an argument or two.
What about that popular saying from Ernest Hemingway? According to the novelist, you should “write drunk, edit sober.” Perhaps, instead of getting “drunk,” we can simply catch a slight buzz. That way, we can jumpstart our brain and keep all our friends. (Plus—to all editors out there—coffee, not alcohol, is your ally.)
Of course, there are writers who’d rather not take any chances with booze. As an alternative, they grab a can or two of fizzy beverages. Surely these good ol’ soft drinks are harmless?
No, dear writer. While wine and beer at least offer some benefits, there is hardly a redeeming quality to be found in sodas’ nutritional content. (I’m not even sure if “nutritional” is the right word to use there.)
Sodas are a health hazard because they are designed to be addictive. The proportions of soda ingredients are well-calculated in order to evoke that feeling of unquenchable desire. Once you’re hooked, you begin to ingest unholy amounts of fructose, the sweetening agent in most soft drinks.
Excessive fructose damages the brain. Big time. Your productive days as a writer will fade into oblivion if you keep binging on soda.
Are diet sodas any better? That’s another nope. Artificial sweeteners can still be addictive; in fact, because you’re not getting the “real” sugar, you become inclined to chug down more diet soda.
No health advantages. No added value to writing skills. Just an insatiable drinking habit that impairs your mental functions. Hard pass.
Our last beverage might be an unconventional choice for writers. But hey, if it helps you cut off the harmful influence of carbonated drinks, it’s worth a try.
Let’s talk about milk for a second. (Yes, seriously.)
Ever since we were infants, milk has been a lot of things to us: sole source of sustenance, vessel of cereals, token of goodwill for St. Nick. Now that we’ve blossomed into professional writers, does milk still deserve a spot in our daily consumption?
Why, surely. In the first place, milk keeps us in tip-top shape with its multiple vitamins and minerals. These include vitamin B2 (helps with energy production), vitamin D (strengthens the immune system), and potassium (regulates blood pressure). If a writer is in great health to begin with, they can constantly be on their A-game as they work on projects. Regular intake of milk can help a writer achieve that.
There are two other things that you need to know about milk. On the one hand, research in the past decade indicates that, aside from its well-known health benefits, milk could actually be good for the brain as well.
It appears that drinking milk leads to higher levels of glutathione in the brain. Glutathione happens to play an important role in preventing conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. On the other hand, milk has also been associated with better sleep. A 2020 study found that, as part of a balanced diet, milk and other dairy products can improve the quality of Zs.
So, how about a glass of milk? Doesn’t sound so strange now, huh?
Of course, this discussion won’t be complete without the most commonplace drink of all.
How can we forget water?
Our bodies simply won’t function properly if we don’t stay hydrated with H2O. Maybe—just maybe, it’s all a writer needs to swig while crafting their latest masterpiece.
Still, with all due respect to the universal compound, I think it’s pretty clear that we do have options. While water should definitely be within reach while we’re working, we now know what to do with the other beverages in our storage.
With a knowing smile on our face, we toss out the soda.
If it’s the top of the morning, we consume our milk to get our fill of nutrients.
If it’s late in the day and we need to loosen up, a glass of wine will do. Maybe two.
If we have to get the creative juices flowing, a cup of tea is in order.
And if we need to stay alert and focused …
Well, in that case, we’ll go to sleep. A good night’s rest, of course, is the key to sharpness of mind, such that when we wake up in the morning, we’re fresh and ready to write.
(Just kidding. Get me a tall espresso!)
Simoun Redoblado is a father, husband, teacher, and school administrator. In 2012, he earned his bachelor's degree in secondary education (major in English) from the University of the Philippines. That same year, he took the licensure examination for secondary teachers, and made it to the list of topnotchers. In his spare time, Simoun reads hip hop as poetry (with Tupac as Dante and Eminem as Shakespeare). He is also an avid hoops fan who believes that life is a game of basketball - sometimes, the assists are more awesome than the dunks.