Despite the fact that Ernest Hemingway has never actually said, “Write Drunk, Edit Sober,” writers seem to be fascinated with the idea. Is it true? Does mind alteration help one become a better writer?

Apparently, it works for some writers. Samuel Taylor Coleridge used opium to awoke some images that led him to create one of the most unusual and well-celebrated poems. Jean-Paul Sartre regularly ingested mescaline. His master piece, Being and Nothingness (1943), is still considered one of the most important work in existentialism.

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Why does alteration of consciousness work, at least for some people? According to Brian Palmer, the scientific explanation to the effect of alcohol consumption can be accounted for by verbosity and inhibition. Drinking alcohol increase creative language use and decreases inhibition. This explanation seems plausible, but is this all to mind altering effect?

The key to solving the puzzle on the effect of altered states of consciousness may be hidden within its definition. A. M. Ludwig defines it as “a sufficient deviation in subjective experience or psychological functioning from certain general norms for that individual during alert, waking consciousness”[1]. In an altered state, a person is more preoccupied with internal sensations and mental processes than usual. This means that a writer focused on these internal faculties may simply be able to get more absorbed in the project. A completely engaged mind can easily enhance the visual elements of the work and allow to unfold the story or argument, depending on the work, step by step. Thus, alteration of the mind just may be a helpful tool.

On the other hand, a writer must be careful with the type of alteration he or she chooses. Alcohol and drugs are highly addictive. The good news is that there are much healthier alternatives. Meditation, guided visualization, contemplation and yoga can all be beneficial. This means that it is always possible to develop a healthier and more productive mind. It is worth trying! Happy writing!

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M. J. Mandoki

[1] A. M. Ludwig, (1966). Altered states of consciousness. Archives of General Psychiatry, 15, p. 225

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