There are muses that drive the artist into creating timelessness in each piece. Poets have Calliope whispering words to be immortalized on paper, musicians have Euterpe strumming the strings of lyrical souls, while Terpsichore reigns supreme in the world of dance. But in these modern times, smoking, imbibing alcohol and caffeine, and even taking illegal drugs like marijuana, may have already replaced these beautiful spirits that once served as the sole source of inspiration for artists.
Writers under the influence
Some writers claim that habits involving these substances are essential to the process of writing. But according to fictionist Eric Melendez, these vices are just rituals a few writers incorporate into their practice to help focus their creative energies.
“In my case, cigarettes and coffee are part of my routine to get me to focus and stay alert and awake,” Melendez told the Varsitarian.
Moreover, writers usually face insecurities regarding their skill and their literary pieces, especially when under the scrutiny of mentors, peers, or critics. Melendez said it is understandable for young writers to lack confidence and doubt themselves, resorting to their habits for a sense of comfort.
“I also went through that stage,” he said. “The starting phase is always scary and a beginning writer may remedy his anxiety and pamper his imagination through his habits.”
Melendez even went as far as vouching for this practice, with the condition that writers should hurdle it after they have gained footing in the literary world.
“It is part of the formative experiences of writers,” he said.
For playwright and historian Jose Victor Torres, vices can help deal with inhibitions that restrain writers from fully expressing themselves.
“Taking drugs and alcohol makes you see things in a different light, making you more daring and reckless,” Torres said.
Torres also noted that the effects of taking these substances vary with different people.
“Some can write while under the influence while others do it after the influence, kung kailan mababa na iyong tama,” he said.
Admitting to his own set of vices, Torres reinforced the notion that what are considered bad habits can help kindle the imagination during the creative process.
“Sometimes, I can write after I take a few bottles of beer or a cup of brewed coffee,” he said.
Since writing involves a lot of reflection and contemplation, Torres said alcohol can help a writer relax after battling with his personal demons.
“You want to flush the fatigue from your system and try to get the remnants of your demons out of you. It is a stress reliever,” Torres said.
According to Torres, drinking also serves as a connection with fellow advocates of literature as it is a form of leisure and relaxation after writing. Melendez added that drinking is just part of the lifestyle that artists enjoy.
“It is a bonding experience where writers can exchange ideas with one another,” Melendez said.
Don’t overdo it
Melendez and Torres, however, agreed that vices are not integral to the art of writing. In fact, they spoke of writers who work without any bad habits.
“Gemino Abad told us during the 1996 UP Writers’ Workshop that as long as you know and learn how to write, you can write,” Torres said. “I write as much as I can without influence.”
Torres further said that young writers are the ones who are very susceptible to the mentality that they need to be “high” in order to come up with good literary pieces.
“There are young writers who think they need these kinds of vices to write. They are the ones who overdo it,” he said.
Melendez cited the romanticized view of writing that makes some writers dependent on substances, which are never crucial or definitive to writing.
“It is a form of stereotyping, no different from people thinking that writers always stare into space, dress horribly, and are always hungry,” he said.
Young writers are often victims to the misconception that the lifestyle has to go with the craft, or worse, has to come before the writing itself. Melendez warns against this fatal mistake.
“You are not a writer if you are always drunk or high. Writing is the only qualification,” he said.
Finally, both Melendez and Torres stressed that the love for writing itself should be enough to drive true writers in pursuing their calling.
“If you are forever dependent on those substances, you lose,” Melendez said.
Montage Vol. 11 • September 2008