Balzac, Coffee and Writing Productivity

This painting makes it look like Balzac suffered from heartburn. Maybe it was the coffee.

Will you be a more productive writer if you drink more coffee? Honore de Balzac knocked back countless cups and he wrote prolifically from midnight to dawn, night after night.  In his article entitled ‘The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee,”here’s how Balzac described the effect of ingesting strong coffee on an empty stomach:

“From that moment on, everything becomes agitated. Ideas quick-march into motion like battalions of a grand army to its legendary fighting ground, and the battle rages. Memories charge in, bright flags on high; the cavalry of metaphor deploys with a magnificent gallop; the artillery of logic rushes up with clattering wagons and cartridges; on imagination’s orders, sharpshooters sight and fire; forms and shapes and characters rear up; the paper is spread with ink – for the nightly labor begins and ends with torrents of this black water, as a battle opens and concludes with black powder.”

Many writers have told me that coffee is an essential aspect of their writing practice. Perhaps not in the same dose or with the same dramatic impact that Balzac prescribes, but enough to give the brain a boost as it prepares to tackle the empty page. Why not absorb a bit of caffeine? It’s legal and seems to do the trick for many.

Many procrastinators also enjoy their daily cup of coffee however, so I don’t think the brown liquid is a panacea for writing blocks, or a reliable genius drug. Balzac was aware of the limitations of the drink. In the same article he also wrote:

Many people claim coffee inspires them, but, as everybody knows, coffee only makes boring people even more boring.”

I quit drinking coffee because it gave me headaches, and I mourn the mild buzz it bestowed. Balzac’s use had more severe side effects – his early death is hypothesized to be linked to his extreme habits with the bean. But he sure did write a lot of words in those 51 years.

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About David Arnot Rasch

Author, psychologist, speaker, workshop leader
This entry was posted in Tips for overcoming writer's block and procrastination and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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