Coffee, Booze and Benzedrine: A Look at the Daily Rituals of Great Artists

updated May 30, 2019
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Have you ever wondered what drove acclaimed writers, philosophers and musicians like Ernest Hemingway, Jean-Paul Sartre and Glenn Gould? After reading Slate’s excellent series on the daily rituals of great artists, I suspect it might be coffee — although a comprehensive list would also need to include alcohol, amphetamines and very little food. 

Coffee and creativity go hand in hand, it turns out, with everyone from Beethoven to David Lynch incorporating it into their daily routine. Balzac apparently drank 50 cups a day, while others relied on it perhaps less for the jolt of caffeine and more for the ritual of preparing it. Beethoven preferred his morning joe made with exactly 60 coffee beans, for example, and would often count them out for a precisely-made cup.

Some took to stronger stimulants like the amphetamine Benzedrine, which W.H. Auden took daily and Graham Greene used to write two books at once. Others like Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald famously relied on alcohol to get them through the creative process — although usually as a reward at the end of a sober day of work, not as constant fuel. William Styron described it this way:

“I’ve never written a line in my life while I’d had a drink, but in terms of its ability to relax you and to allow you certain visionary moments when you’re thinking about your work, I think it’s very valuable. Let’s say a day is finished and you’ve put in some good hours of writing and you’re still perplexed about the next day. Just to be able to have a few drinks and to think in this released mode often gives you very new insights.”

Food lovers will be disappointed to learn many artists ate very little and often the same foods day after day. Most said they worked better when their stomachs were empty and seemed to view food as more of a distraction than anything else.

Do you have any daily rituals to fuel your creativity?