It’s a common idea that writers, much like musicians and other artists, run on a fantastical cocktail of chemicals that keeps them going day after day. The idea being that by avoiding a “normal” state of mind, they can come up with one magical stroke of genius after another. While most of my creativity comes with a strong blast of caffeine, the occasional evening’s work can be greased with a liberal application of the following:

  1. Scotch
    Best time: Cold winter evening, with the snow spinning outside and a fire crackling.
    Best taken: Neat. Whiskey stones if you want it chilled.
    Why: Scotch is the cranky old sage of liquors. Plenty of people think it’s harsh. My own father has been known to call it mouthwash. But, like wine, scotch varieties can take you through a forest of flavors. Some bring a campfire into your mouth. Most will leave your stomach with a warm glow, perfect for turning in a contemplative scene or pondering new ideas for the next morning’s ideas. I admit, I love the stuff. Particularly the peaty batches.
  2. Cold Microbrew (IPA/Wheat/Lager)
    Best time: Hot summer evening, with the fan blowing or the sun setting on the deck.
    Best taken: Glass if you’ve got it, bottle if you don’t.
    Why: Stouts and other dark beers are fine, but most times if I’m thinking of that stuff I’d rather have scotch anyway. However, a blast of cold hoppy goodness can spruce up a mind made mush by midsummer heat. Especially if I’ve been spinning stories all day and have a few other things, like these blog posts, to tend to before closing up shop for the night. It’s a way of celebrating while still being productive. And unlike Scotch, these won’t knock you out quite so fast. It’s the boost to see you through the end of your day. Plus, with so many different breweries these days (and I live in Wisconsin, where we’re crawling with them) there’s always a new one to try.
  3. Gin (Martinis/Tonics/Fizzes)
    Best time: Summer and Spring, when you’re not feeling the bitterness of beer and want the purity of the pine trees
    Best taken: In a glass with ice and tonic, a slice of lime. I prefer martinis later in the year – the booziness helps cut cooler temps. Take it outside with a notebook and watch the ideas fly.
    Why: There’s something to be said for gin’s roguish characteristics. There’s character here; a lively bounce from the first sip of chilling north woods that beer doesn’t deliver. It doesn’t come with vodka’s blunt hammer, and dodges rum’s island party for southern sophistication. It’s a key cool down cocktail on plane flights, and if you’ve got a bit of fresh mint growing nearby the possibilities are endless.
  4. Red Wine
    Best time: Fall and Winter evenings. Spring evenings. Summer evenings (if it’s not roasting, but even then, well, you won’t be disappointed).
    Best taken: On a blanket in a plastic cup as the sun sets. On the coffee table as jazz plays on the speakers. Out of the bottle at the end of the night when you’ve got an idea that just won’t go away.
    Why: I’m sure there are white wine devotees out there, but really, there’s a certain maturity of character that comes with a great bottle of red. A complexity of flavor that some sommelier could certainly spend pages going on and on about. Suffice it to say that a special bottle of red brings with it a story of the vineyard, the varietal, the memory of where you bought it (even if it was the gas station down the street). And once you’ve uncorked that bottle, it’s easy to find a story. Just make sure you write it down before you’re too far in, else all you’ll have is nonsense. Which, now that I think about it, might be just fine.
  5. Bourbon/Whisky
    Best time: Cooler temps, but depends on what you’re doing with it.
    Best taken: The Suburban – if you a sip of this and walk out on a -20 degree January night, you’ll feel right and warm. This is an invincible cocktail, capable of making a man do ridiculous things, and then write them down.
    Why: There are some similarities between these and scotches, but it’s more the equivalent of literature (scotch) to pulpy genre fare (bourbon/whisky) – both are excellent given the right mood. It’s easier to knock back a few glasses of whisky at a party than delve into scotch, and, similarly so, it’s easier to knock out a few chapters with a highball glass and a bottle of Four Roses than with a sipper of scotch. Plus, there are more than a few cocktails that work with these in the summer, whereas scotch has a harder time fighting the heat. Best keep both in your cabinet for easy access.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t through in an honorably mention for the Sidecar. I’ve had these all over the world and encountered as many ways to make one as there are places that serve them, but the lemon makes the darned things so refreshing that they’re hard to turn down.

If I didn’t mention your favorite vice here, that doesn’t mean I dislike it (I’ve got a generous palate), but these are the ones that, if I’m stuck on a scene and the sun is teetering on the horizon, I’ll turn to first to help get past that block. And then I’ll edit it the next morning and pray I make sense.

Happy writing!

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