Coffee helps many writers increase their productivity. Some of the most prolific and successful modern writers have relied on coffee, including Honoré de Balzac, William Faulkner, Ayn Rand, and Jack Kerouac. When we look at the production of these authors, we often find that they were drinking copious amounts of coffee during their most intense writing periods. In fact, Jack Kerouac famously said that he wrote On the Road on coffee. He told his friend Neal Cassady that he, too, should drink coffee when writing. Although Cassady wasn’t a writer, Kerouac was always trying to get his friends to write, and he raved about the way coffee helped him finish his books in record time.
There are some interesting new findings about coffee that all writers should pay attention to, especially the recent genetic findings. According to the latest research, people are either rapid, average, or slow metabolizers of caffeine. Rapid metabolizers clear the drug significantly more quickly from their system. This means they also have a greater tolerance for coffee.
This research also indicates that rapid caffeine metabolizers will not experience an increased risk of nonfatal heart attacks, the way slow metabolizers will if they drink more than two cups a day. About 30 percent of people are rapid caffeine metabolizers. I found out that I was, too, by taking a fun genetic test from 23andMe.
If you haven’t taken the genetic test, but you still wish to know whether you’re a rapid caffeine metabolizer, just ask yourself whether you tolerate coffee well. If it keeps you up all night, if it causes you jitters if you just take a few sips, or if it makes you overly anxious, you’re probably a slow metabolizer. But if, on the other hand, you can have one, two, or even three cups during the day, without feeling overly jittery, then you’re likely to be in that 30 percent of the population who are rapid caffeine metabolizers. The good news is that if you’re a writer, you can still enjoy the beneficial effects of coffee if you just drink one or two cups, even if you’re a slow metabolizer. Rapid caffeine metabolizers can drink considerably more.
Jack Kerouac was almost certainly a rapid caffeine metabolizer because he would think nothing of having four cups of coffee at a time.
If you write for a living, or even if you just enjoy writing (such as on your blog), please take my new Writers and Coffee Survey. This short survey will help me with my new book about how writers use coffee to be more productive. The survey will only take a couple of minutes, and you’ll be redirected back to this website after you finish. Thank you!
- Cornelis MC, El-Sohemy A, Kabagambe EK, Campos H. “Coffee, CYP1A2 genotype, and risk of myocardial infarction.” JAMA. 2006;295(10):1135-1141.
- Nikolopoulos, Stephanie, and Paul Maher Jr. 2013. Burning Furiously: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (Alternately titled: The Saga of Young Jack Kerouac and Jack Kerouac’s American Journey) Morrisville, NC.