When it’s been a long day and it’s getting late, but I still have more writing to do, I sometimes let myself make a cup of coffee before sitting down at my desk to continue my work.
Caffeine is a stimulant. It keeps you awake. It doesn’t give you energy — it simply tricks you into thinking you have more stamina to spare even when you don’t.
But the reason I take the time to make coffee when it’s late isn’t always because I plan on drinking the whole cup of not-real-energy juice. Which is weird, I know. Especially for someone who depends on coffee to fuel her sunrise productivity streams like I do.
Really, the reason I like having that cup of coffee next to me is more for comfort than anything else. Plus, it’s how I measure whether or not I’ve had a good writing session by the time it’s over.
That probably sounds even weirder, right? You must be new to this blog. Welcome to Weird Town. I’m your fearless, shameless leader. How may I serve you?
Coffee isn’t magic. Except it can act like it, sometimes.
I know I’ve had a good writing session if the coffee is still there by the end, cold, yet having served its purpose all the same. Because that means the “reward” didn’t distract me. I didn’t keep reaching for it out of stress or frustration or boredom. In reality, I got so lost in what I was writing — in a good way, I suppose — that I didn’t even stop to think about the fact that my coffee was getting cold.
The best part about coffee? You can always heat it up again. Or save it for later.
I never consciously use coffee as a motivator. It’s more of just the habitual thing I do when I know I’m about to sit down for an extended period of time to sink into my creative zone. I don’t always need it, and I KNOW I don’t always need it. But in many cases, especially later in the day, it does help. It reminds me that it’s OK to push myself a little, because I have a crutch. As long as I don’t depend on that crutch so much that I can’t survive without it, it’s not hurting me. At least, I hope it isn’t.
In writing — not the writing itself, necessarily, but the process — you need to have something that keeps you going, something that helps you measure your level of focus. Something you can keep close by — within reach, just in case — to make you feel comfortable. Secure, even.
Many times, this manifests in the form of a routine — like a bedtime ritual, but for writing. Before bed, I always brush my teeth, take my medication, and play a game on my tablet (I know, I know) in that order. Before writing, at least at night, I always grab either coffee or a glass of water before I sit down, just in case.
Maybe for you it’s making sure you’ve taken the dog out one last time before you sit down at your computer. Maybe writing is the first thing you do after putting your kid to bed or watching the news or doing the dishes. I don’t know what your life looks like, these are just examples.
What matters is that this — whatever this “thing” may be — puts your mind at ease. It ensures you’re less likely to stop in the middle of a writing session because you remembered something important or your to-do list wasn’t quite finished.
And your “close by” object — maybe it’s coffee, or a glass of water. Maybe it’s your phone turned upside-down at the corner of your desk, there in case someone happens to need you. Maybe it’s your planner, a timer, a Funko figure watching your every keystroke.
These things, too, put us in a place where we are free to enter “the zone.” We’re not worried about interruptions, about anything of importance that isn’t right here on the screens in front of us.
And when the coffee turns cold — when the timer goes off, when you look over at the window and notice how dark it has become, that’s how you know you’ve made it through another long day.
That’s how you know you’re one step closer to reaching your goals — and that maybe, if you could do it today, you could do it again tomorrow, too.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.