Want to be more creative? Drink less.
The lasting impact of Dry January, why creativity loves constraints, and a goal-setting sleepover.
A few years ago, I realized a drink (or two) at the end of each day had become a habit, my default go-to for every occasion. Celebrating a birthday? This round’s on me. Catching up with a friend? I’ll bring the wine. Bad day? Pour me a glass. Time to unwind? Cozy up with a cocktail. But after a while it got boring, the same story every time.
To change things up, I jumped on the Dry January bandwagon. (Fun fact: I started this newsletter during Dry January 2019, and it was the subject of my debut issue.) Since that first, fateful dry spell, I drink far less than I used to. Rarely during the week (how else am I going to get up at 5 a.m. to write?) and moderately on the weekends, for the most part.
These days, when I’m tempted to reach for a drink, I pause and ask myself, “Is this what I really want? Is this what I actually need? Will having a drink right now enhance this moment, or dull it?” Sometimes the answer is enhance, and I’m happy to imbibe. When it’s not, I’m just as happy to opt for a non-alcoholic beverage instead.
An added bonus: drinking less has forced me to become more creative, especially when it comes to social activities. Instead of meeting friends at yet another bar or gossiping over a bottle of wine, we’ll meet up for a run at the beach or a walk around the lake, we’ll host craft and kombucha nights, we’ll eat a lot of ice cream, walk our dogs, visit the farmers market, play a board game over breakfast. Sometimes you need to take away the obvious choice to realize how many other options there are. Creativity, as they say, loves constraints.
Speaking of creativity, cutting back on booze has also bled into my writing, where avoiding the obvious, easy choice is harder than it looks. A few years ago, a dear friend read an early draft of my second book and asked me, quite seriously, if the main character was supposed to be an alcoholic.
“No, not at all,” I said, surprised. “What made you think that?”
“Probably all the drinking,” she replied.
When I reread the book, I realized she was right. My characters were constantly reaching for a drink, going to bars and out to dinner, popping open a bottle when things got tough. Alcohol was an easy way to help them loosen their tongues and lower their inhibitions. It was a shortcut to the truth, a writer’s easy out, a literary crutch. But after a while it got boring, the same story every time.
In my second draft, I cut down the drinking, the bars, the clink of glasses over dinner. I moved a key scene from a boozy brunch to a small museum. Instead of ordering drinks, the characters moved through an exhibit, their different reactions to the art revealing far more than a bottomless mimosa ever could.
I don’t feel a need to give up drinking entirely—not in my personal life, and not in my writing. I just want to make sure that when alcohol appears, it’s a conscious decision rather than a habit, a ritual rather than a reflex, the right decision rather than the easy one. When presented with the option to drink, I want to make the more interesting choice. This time, I want to tell a new story.
A few years ago, some of my friends and I started a goal setting club. Every January, we get together to set and discuss our goals for the year, meet quarterly to review our progress and revise as needed, and offer support and motivation along the way. Over the summer, Emma moved to Charlotte (devastating) so this weekend, Kat and I headed her way for a Girls with Goals Sleepover. We had dinner at a fancy wine and tapas place (yes, I had wine, and yes, it absolutely enhanced the experience) and right at this very moment, we’re whipping up an elaborate breakfast so we can discuss our goals in earnest before Kat and I drive back to the coast. This little group is one of my favorite rituals, and I’m so glad we found a way keep it going. ✨
📚 Reading: I just finished The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, and I liked it way more than I anticipated. Currently: The Robber Bride, which is this month’s book club pick. So far, it’s much funnier than The Handmaid’s Tale!
📺 Clicking: How to feel less depleted at the end of the workweek (relevant to my life, see next bullet point.)
🏢 Returning: To the office. My company decided to bring us back to the office full time starting January 9, and it’s been a bit of an adjustment. Helping me cope: mason jar salads, 7 a.m. classes at the YMCA, and my favorite cube mate.
💸 Taking: This fun quiz from my BFF’s at YNAB (yes, that’s my referral link) which helps you create a customized spending plan, complete with budget categories!
📣 Accepting: Your burning questions! Last year, I published an occasional advice column, Can You Relate?, which was pretty fun and very thought-provoking (for me, at least.) I’d like to bring it back, but I need some fresh questions! Submit your queries here.
Cheers to Linday O., Kate Q., Mary Chris E., and Amy S. for finding a fun and creative way to support this newsletter!
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Love the idea of making less-than-perfect habits into periodic rituals, versus villainizing them.
Such a good call out of a habit in incognito mode. Cheers to you!