Write it on Whiskey. Critique it on Caffeine

Many people have a habit of going to the coffee shop to write, sketch, or brainstorm. Read on to learn why that cup of coffee might be better placed as the second step in a creative process, not the first. Hint: it has to do with science and cognitive theory.


So, what’s this title about: “Write it on whiskey; critique it on caffeine”? In addition to being delightfully catchy, it addresses the functions of neurotransmitters and divergent and convergent thinking. Let’s look at what these functions are, and then I’ll explain how they relate to the title of this article. It’s pretty cool, I promise.


Divergent and convergent thinking are two cognitive processes involved in problem-solving and creativity. Divergent thinking is about breaking away from conventional thought patterns, allowing unconventional or original ideas to emerge; think of brainstorming sessions or creative writing exercises. Convergent thinking involves focusing and refining ideas by narrowing down options and applying established rules or criteria. Neurotransmitters are the chemicals that enhance or impair physiological function, such as between synapses in your brain.


Write it on Whiskey/ Divergent Thinking

To be clear, I’m not talking about shot-for-shot, tie-one-on, black-out-drunk liquor consumption. The effect works best with a drink or two of alcohol. The outcome is a touch of cognitive impairment that facilitates creative thoughts through reduced attentional control. Research people researched it.

Reduced Cognitive Function. A recent study concluded that creative problem-solving improves with some level of intoxication. Why? How? Alcohol’s impact on working memory—our ability to focus on relevant information—plays a role. It reduces the brain’s tendency to screen out peripheral details, allowing for more unconventional problem-solving. It also reduces our attention span, concentration, and memory, which increases our tendency toward divergent and spontaneous thinking.

Sedative Effects. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. It slows down brain activity and inhibits neurotransmitters, meaning it has sedative effects on your brain and body function. These effects on neurotransmitters can lead to feelings of relaxation, reduced anxiety, and lowered inhibitions. The result is that you’re slower to dismiss those wayward or unconventional ideas, and they’ll get the chance to be considered or explored.


Perhaps the muse whispers more freely when the mind is gently blurred by spirits.


Critique it on Caffeine/ Convergent Thinking

How many cups of coffee do you need to drink before noticing the magical effects of caffeine? For some people, it’s just a few sips! But there’s more than one way to ride the caffeine train. In an 8-ounce serving, there are 80-100 milligrams of caffeine in a cup of coffee, 30-70mgs in black and green tea, 30-40mgs in a can of Coca-Cola Classic, and around 150mgs in an energy drink.

Enhanced Focus and Alertness. Caffeine edges into the spaces in your brain that adenosine - a chemical that causes drowsiness - would have otherwise occupied. Caffeine, the sneaky little amigo that it is, blocks the adenosine receptors so that the drowsy feeling doesn’t take over. Ergo, you stay alert and can focus on your task.

Better Brain Function. Caffeine triggers the release of the very helpful neurotransmitters dopamine and glutamate. Dopamine keeps us motivated, focused, and emotionally balanced, while glutamate ensures proper brain function, learning, and memory. Caffeine enables the release of high-octane fuel for the engine that is your brain!


Working in this order – brainstorming and then refining – we allow ourselves to explore ideas a little outside the lines of our usual thought processes and then refine them with fresh, focused eyes.


The KYA: no, this won’t work for everyone, and, probably, not everyone should try it. But maybe, just maybe, the next time you’ve had a drink or two (of alcohol or caffeine), you could turn your attention to a project or problem for five minutes and see whether any unexpected outcomes present themselves.


Image: Copilot