When I lived in New York in my late twenties, I trained myself to drink whiskey neat and to never let my face cringe in response to the Band-Aid bitterness of it. I had raised myself on Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver, men who led sloppy lives and wrote economical prose. All the romanticized writers were depressed or drunks, I considered as I savored the whiskey burn in my chest.
I didn’t try cannabis until my twenty-third birthday. Having a streak of alcoholism in my bloodline and a stint of Christianity in my teens, I avoided all addictions but writing. Two months earlier, I was invited to the annual Christmas party at Seattle institute Hugo House—named for a man who loved bars so much his most famous line is, “Home. Home. I knew it entering.” As I sat there, a tipsy and excited former intern on the fringe of Seattle’s literary circle, I listened to my old supervisors trading stories of being stoned. I kept quiet, sipped my drink, and laughed at the appropriate times.
As a writer, I want to experience as much as possible, if only to be constantly inspired. Smoking was an experience I lacked, so my friend gifted me some shitty pot as we spent my birthday weekend in the cabin on the San Juan Islands loaned out by Hugo House’s former executive director. My virgin lungs could not handle the smoke, and I projectile vomited the night’s many birthday drinks off the side of the porch. I did not understand why people smoked.
Eight years later, I do. I like cannabis because it rounds life’s sharp edges. That’s my favorite way to think of it: life is challenging and at times shitty, but weed filters that shittiness and makes it a little easier to swallow.
My friend in Portland first introduced me to the combination of writing and smoking while we were in graduate school. We talked often about breaking through the “weed wall,” the invisible barrier where, on one side, sit the munchies, watching YouTube videos of corgis, and general fuckoffery. On the other side lay untold worlds to be explored. Once we broke through the wall, there were whole books to be written—I know because I’ve written some half dozen manuscripts while using cannabis.
Smoking weed before writing sits with me much better than drinking alcohol. I sit up straighter, feeling the length of my spine, my shoulders relax, and I plant myself firmly in my seat. But it’s more than the physical improvements. I feel more confident and less afraid of risk. Cannabis becomes a part of my ritual, and a ritual is something many writers rely on. Jess Walter revealed at Wordstock a few years back that his wife puts a cookie out for him every morning that serves as his Pavlovian trigger to sit down and write. I smoke weed and listen to the soundtrack for whichever piece I’m working on (Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf” for this piece, natch). Do whatever works for you.
I’ve met many productive stoners who utilize cannabis in order to better hone their attention onto a project, and that too is how it affects my writing. There are a million ways to distract myself from the work at hand, and yes there are times when the “weed wall” is one of them, but in my experience, more often than not I am better able to dive into a long stretch of writing if I smoke first. Part of that stems from losing the inhibitions that often keep me from truly inhabiting my characters. Without self-consciousness, I can enter the mind of a disappointing father or a riot grrrl vampire or a queer teen who makes art out of the internet—and I want to stay with them. I want to feel their failures, plot their revenge, and experience first heartbreak with them.
Admittedly, it’s a silly thing as an adult to play make believe and create your own worlds, but cannabis helps many creative types to let our guard down and embrace the imagination that so much of our day-to-day life stifles.
More people need to come out of the “green closet” if cannabis is ever going to be destigmatized, studied, and fully appreciated as a medicinal plant. At the forefront of this revolution, activists stand beside musicians, comedians, and other artistic people. Though I’ve smoked with a lawyer, teacher, and nurses, I understand their professions may not so easily allow for a loud and proud embrace of cannabis.
But I also don’t like being written off as a “stoner writer,” like being creative is just an excuse to smoke or that I say I’ll do something more often than I’ll actually do it. The lazy stoner is a tired stereotype. I know many ambitious women working in the cannabis industry who juggle multiple roles and side hustles, and often cannabis is a way for them to unwind at the end of a long day or focus their energy on a next task.
We live in a culture that at worst glorifies alcohol and at best doesn’t talk about it as problematic. We turn Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Bukowski, Carver, and countless others into these mythological drunks, as though that’s part of the package when it comes to being an author. What is lesser known about Carver’s all-too-late end to his drinking is that he was able to quit with the help of cannabis.
“Still, this confident man needed marijuana to bring himself to rest in the evenings. Unlike many recovering alcoholics, Ray’s craving for alcohol was apparently not awakened by other drugs. Stoned, Ray could step back from himself–ease his worried mind, as the song goes–and entertain the doubleness of self that he’d felt so often in his life,” writes biographer Carol Sklenicka in Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life. Though there is a whiff of judgment in Sklenicka’s brief interlude on Carver’s cannabis usage, she captures the double life of a creator, and how cannabis often eases the transition out of ourselves and into another persona.
Yes, I smoke weed. But I also run and write and get shit done. I don’t use it to numb myself. I use it to dig deeper, open myself up to new ideas and stories, and embrace my characters with empathy and understanding.
What I don’t do is use cannabis when editing. Always edit sober.
Note: The opinions expressed by guest bloggers at the Submittable blog are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Submittable.