Marcus Boon’s book,“The Road of Excess” chronicles the chemically induced altered state habits of a number of famous writers. Boon discusses the history of anesthetics, narcotics, psychedelics, cannabis and stimulants within the literary world. The stimulants are the drugs he associates with writing productivity issues.
Coffee, cigarettes, cocaine and amphetamines make up the bulk of these substances, though prescription drugs such as Ritalin and Provigil are among a class of drugs that are recent popular additions to this category. Their chief virtue, when effective, is to heighten concentration, increase the speed of thought, and boost energy levels. The down side is their addictive nature, post-use depressions, the health consequences of overuse and their long-term potential for disrupting quality of relationships and good work habits.
The Beat writers used speed a lot. So did science fiction writer Phillip Dick and existentialist Jean Paul Sartre. Boon describes how stimulants can be associated with extended, highly productive writing marathons, and with a writing style that can be described as quite verbose, involving lengthy sentences that contain a cascade of ideas that tumble forth one after the other.
There is a thriving black market for Ritalin and Provigil among college students, who are often trying to produce papers in short time frames while denying themselves sleep.
It seems true that many writers have effectively utilized stimulants to enhance their creative output, and that many have harmed themselves or died prematurely through excessive or unwise use. If a drug works so well it seems too good to be true, it probably has a dark side that will emerge in time. Our brains are sensitive organs, and as writers we need to respect that fact when using psychoactive substances, because we rely heavily on that miraculous clump of tissue.
And dead writers generally have a very low daily word count.