Blood, Sweat, and Tears? More like Coffee, Cheetos, and Top Ramen: The Stuff Books Are Made Of
It’s a well-known fact that making a snack to fuel your writing counts as writing.
Writers are often strange, reclusive creatures, but our food and drink fixations reveal something charming about us. They can throw off a reader’s general perception of who we are and make us appear more relatable and approachable.
While I prefer to write more thoughtful, serious blog posts, I wanted to craft a fun one about authors and the foods and beverages they consume while writing.
To accomplish this, I reached out to fellow Goodreads authors — household names and independent writers alike — to share their tasty indulgences with you.
Andy Weir, author of the award-winning science fiction novel, The Martian (2011), reaches for peanut butter sandwiches on wheat bread. “Don’t know why,” he says. “I just love ’em. Also, gallons of Diet Coke.” The Martian received the Goodreads Choice Awards Best Science Fiction Novel in 2014, and the Audie Award for Science Fiction in 2015. It was adapted into a feature film starring Matt Damon as the main character, Mark Watney. The film was released on October 2, 2015, and became the 8th-highest grossing film of the year.
Science Fiction author (and artist), Bradley Horner, had this to say about his beloved writing fuel:
“When it comes to those writing snacks, it’s never about the saltiness or the sweet, even though a cursory examination might make a casual observer make a few assumptions.
It is, however, entirely about the smell.
Whether I want a few slices of stinky cheese, some pesto on a few crackers, or a Hatch Chile breakfast burrito, it’s always the smell that brings forth words and worlds. Granted, I may have a tall glass of grape Monster drink or a cinnamon laden cup of coffee to go with it, but taste means less than those blooming memory buds in my nostrils.
Snacks are merely a Jutsu that I perform to trigger all the kinds of chakra in my brain. They are combinations and keys that unlock surprising memories.
Of course, sometimes I just want a doughnut. They’re great for years of guilt and self-recrimination Jutsu. Sometimes I can just feel those characters trying to break out of the page, coming alive on the street corners as they pass those wafting pressures of pastries. Darn it. Now I want to write.”
Now I want to grab a breakfast burrito and read your books. Thanks, Horner.
Award-winning British author, K.J. Simmell, wrote The Forgotten Legacies series under the power of fruit and chocolate. “I tend to try and keep snacks on hand, but the one that works for me is fruit. Seriously though, a chocolate orange is the best. That counts as fruit, right?”
Of course it counts. We’re writers. Anything goes.
“Okay, so my snacking habits aren’t too healthy when I write,” she concluded, “but I do tend to sit for hours on end and chocolate contains caffeine and sugar — two must haves.” Regarding her favorite drink: “When I write, I survive on Pepsi Max Cherry — see there’s my fruit again.”
Johanna Wittenberg, author of The Norsewomen series, enjoys organic roasted seaweed. “It’s satisfyingly salty & crunchy, very nutritious, and practically no calories.” She also drinks coffee when she writes. “But I have to limit myself!” Book 3 in The Norsewomen series, The Raider Bride, was released on January 29, 2021, and is available in ebook and paperback on Amazon.
In the height of my query, I was surprised to discover that not all writers have food fixations.
“Right, I love food. Food is amazing,” says fantasy author, Robert J. Power. “And that can be a problem for me. So I fill myself with every beverage I can while writing.” Author of the Amazon bestselling series, Spark City Cycle and The Dellerin Tales, he starts with coffee. “Nothing happens without the morning coffee. Until the palpitations. Then… no more coffee. So what do I do when I have eight more hours to fill… I’m a chicory kind of guy. All of the chicory, non stop, in a thermos that keeps it warm for as long as possible. If I’m being honest, a little bit of oat milk added. Perfect.”
Bonnie Wynne, author of The Price of Magic series, prefers tea. “A nice strong cup of Assam Bold (milk, no sugar) is the best writing fuel for me,” she says. “Eating while writing usually just ends up with crumbs in the keyboard — though I don’t mind a sneaky biscuit here and there.”
Helen Scheuerer enjoys her tea the same way I do. “I can’t start a morning of writing until I’ve got a fresh cup of black tea with a dash of milk steaming in front of me.” Scheuerer is the YA fantasy author of the bestselling novels, Heart of Mist (2017), Reign of Mist (2018), and War of Mist (2019). These books are part of the action-packed trilogy, The Oremere Chronicles. The series has been highly praised for its strong, flawed female characters and its engaging plots. It has often been likened to Sarah J Maas’ Throne of Glass series, and the epic film, Wonder Woman.
Sci-Fi and fantasy author, Michael La Ronn, is also a tea drinker. “I don’t eat when I write — way too dangerous for me! I’m a fan of loose leaf teas — black, green, herbal. During the winter, I almost exclusively drink Hot Cinnamon Spice by Harney & Sons. During the spring/summer, I usually drink mint and peppermint tea. Does wonders for my imagination.” The author of over 50 novels, La Ronn is also the creator of Author Level Up, a Youtube platform dedicated to empowering other writers by helping them write better and faster and building influence with their readers. (The tea is obviously working for him.)
My guilty pleasures are boldly listed in the title. All three were cheap, easily accessible, and quite tasty during my starving writer years and have remained with me ever since.
Coffee is a given. I love coffee. Drinking it while writing assures me I will have more than enough mental energy to transfer my ideas onto the page. Not a single brilliant idea will escape my thoughts because, well, heh, I’m drinking coffee. I trust fall coffee hard.
Flaming Hot Cheetos are — and have always been — my go-to writing snack. Their bold, spicy flavor and crunchy texture fuels my brain (and tastebuds) during writing sprees. They also keep me awake (and sane?) during tedious editing sessions.
When I crave a different kind of starchy carbohydrate, I make top ramen on the stovetop. As I prepare the noodles, time away from the computer gives my mind a well deserved break, and more often than not, it nudges my ideas about scenes or character development in the right direction, if ever so slightly.
Writers and alcohol have been cozy bedfellows since, well, the creation of alcohol.
Broadly speaking, alcohol affects writers in two distinct ways:
1) It takes the edge off. Some writers have an anxious disposition. This means they’re perfectionists at heart and struggle to let go of their fears and inhibitions associated with writing. Their favorite libation helps take the edge off, to the point where their writing flows freely, unhindered by their fear of failure.
2) It relaxes them… too much. Some writers are naturally calm and well-tempered. They benefit from alcohol only after the writing has been completed; to celebrate, relax, and take them far away from their own thoughts. For them, alcohol relaxes them too much, to the point where they can no longer focus on the important task at hand and their productivity becomes nil.
Personally, I fall into the calm, well-tempered category. Trust me, I have inadvertently sabotaged more than one productive writing session by thinking, “You know, having a drink right now sounds really nice. And afterward, I can work on my novel.” Once the alcohol hit my system, I had to postpone the writing session and watch a movie instead.
Wynne doesn’t drink while writing, either. “My grammar goes out the window,” she says, “along with my common sense. But I like to relax with a glass of Malbec after a good session.”
Wittenberg also drinks to relax — white wine, to be exact.
Ever the Irish man, Power’s go-to drink for celebrating “monumental moments and milestones” is Tullamore Dew. “However, for every book I finish, I am gifted a single barrel Jack Daniels.”
“If it’s toward the end of the day and I’ve managed to ignore the guilt, I’ll have a glass of red wine,” says Scheuerer. “My favorite is a New Zealand pinot noir called Valli Gibbston.”
“I will confess to mead,” Simmell says, “especially during the Christmas season. What else should a fantasy writer drink?”
Yummy. All this talk of alcohol makes me want to get liquored up.
Writers and Alcoholism
It’s no secret that many famous writers were (and are) alcoholics. However, it’s important to remember that not all writers abuse alcohol, and there is no extraordinary reason behind why some of them do.
Writers drink for a plethora of reasons (just like the rest of the population) according to Blake Morrison, who believes it is “from boredom, loneliness, lack of self-confidence, as a stress-relief or a short-cut to euphoria; to bury the past, obliterate the present or escape the future”. Or, in Hemingway’s words, because “modern life is often a mechanical oppression and liquor is the only mechanical relief”.
Writers aren’t so different from everybody else. We eat Cheetos and drink mead and laugh, just like you do.
Oh, wait, I never told you: my favorite post-writing alcoholic beverage at present is Pyramid’s Apricot Ale. If not beer, a glass of red wine will do, preferably a good cabernet that finishes smooth, or a savory red blend. In fact, I think I’m going to pour myself a glass as soon as I click “publish”.
I’ll need to buy another bag of Cheetos in the morning.
Amy Hay is an independent author of fantasy fiction and seeks to share unique, powerful stories with her readers. Her work has been described as moody, transformative, psychological, and genre bending.
She is the author of the Spirit of the King trilogy and is currently working on her fourth novel.