Sunday, April 07, 2024


Unless we count caffeine,  I've never used a stimulant - or any kind of drug - to help with writing. Not even during the most against-all-odds of all-nighters, or when facing a pile-up of deadlines.... not even in that marathon-turned-to-sprint last leg of completing a book. 

Staring down a delivery crisis, the idea of resorting to some kind of writer's little helper, a chemical crutch, has occasionally felt tempting....  but ultimately seemed strategically unwise. What if I wrote a load of drivel in a manic state? (Okay, okay, I can see the quip coming here - let's say "more so than  the usual"). What if I just lost it completely? (Certain colleagues and their amphetamine misadventures gave me a dire warning there).

Better to power through the exhaustion, jacked up on an accelerant cocktail of will and fear and caffeine.

So I read with interest these essays at Pioneerworks / Broadcast about Adderall use, and how apparently chronic and widespread it is. 

Particularly, it seems, with those who work with text - writing it, reading it. 

The piece by Amber A’Lee Frost on how an editor can recognise if a writer is "on the stuff" was especially interesting.  She says she can spot the Adderall House Style instantly and breaks it down into various categories of symptoms:

Endless revision

Fixation on minutiae, leading to paralysis

Sprawl - the piece gets too long, goes on too many tangents, the writer can't bring themselves to throw away any of the juicy bits of information, ideas, quotes, jokes they've come up with

Punchy - wisecracking tone. 

Punchiness - picking fights, a prickly, combative, point-scoring tone.

Epiphanies - bolts of illusory revelation. 

Paranoia - spotting hidden patterns, secret connections.

What I wondered, though, scanning this list of total-give-away hallmarks of Adderall-addled prose, was - aren't many of them simply hallmarks of being a writer? Inherent tendencies towards which writers are prone? 

Especially in the age of word-processing, when you can fiddle away at things endlessly, finessing a phrase or moving things around structurally (whereas in the age of the typewriter, the commitment of the key struck and the carriage return imposed a certain finitude, a propulsive thrust onwards toward the "finished" line).  

Especially, also, in the age of the internet, where the research process so insidiously and irresistibly slides into protraction, a seeping sideways into adjacent avenues. 

But I've known fellow writers, who I'm fairly certain weren't on anything except their internal supplies of obsessiveness, who produced 20 thousand word pieces when they had been asked for 4000 tops... who have delivered the copy weeks or months late... who got so tangled up in research, they never completed at all. 

A few times in my life I've been that person, or near enough.

In a sense, the unconscious motivation of writing - or one of them - is to get oneself into this "high performance" state, also known as "flow", being "in the zone", etc. 

The work itself is the drug.

Maybe you have a kind of internal-Adderall latent within you, as a potential - it's what you tap. 

The doing of the work is dopaminergic.

You get high on these self-generated chemicals, and then the symptoms that Amber A’Lee Frost enumerates emerge.

Maybe the Adderall is just a shortcut, for those who want to get "there" quicker, as soon as possible? 


Another thought:

All these tendencies 

endless revision  / fixation on minutiae / sprawl /  excessive wisecracking / punchiness / illusory epiphany / paranoia 

These are the Zone of Fruitless Intensification stage of "the right stuff" - virtues turned to self-defeating vices...  necessary strengths that, pushed too far, become weaknesses.

Dial each of them back a bit, back into the fruitful zone, and you have:  

perfectionism / detail-orientation / fecundity / wit / polemical edge / insight / pattern-recognition


  1. The Tao Te Ching is good on this - not forcing things, letting the flow happen. If the work isn't coming forward, step away from it for a day, a week, even a month. It's all about giving your will space to recharge.

    Something like Adderall (thought this was a sports brand, tbh) is the opposite of the Taoist principle.

    1. I had a bunch of earlier thinkige on "flow", cueing off a quote from the drummer's drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, who declared that "Thought is the enemy of flow."

  2. This is something I once wrote about a speed freak to entertain my mates.
    One of the oldest memes of the internet age is the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. To explain briefly for those unaware, the aim of the game is to connect an actor to Kevin Bacon within six degrees of separation. For instance, Elvis Presley was in the film Change of Habit (1969) with Edward Asner, who was in JFK (1991) with Kevin Bacon. Thus, Presley is said to have a Bacon number of 2, with two degrees of separation, and Asner a Bacon number of 1 (Bacon’s own Bacon number is 0). The game originated with three students at Pennsylvania’s Albright College in 1994, after Bacon remarked on how many actors he had worked with during his career. However, mathematicians have established a similar game with one of the most eccentric mathematicians in history, Paul Erdős (1913-1996).
    Born in Budapest, at the age of 4 Erdős (roughly pronounced air-dish) was able to mentally calculate the number of seconds a person had lived when given their age. He left Hungary for Britain in 1934 to escape increasing anti-Semitism (most of his family were murdered in the Holocaust), and in 1938 he accepted a position at Princeton University. At this point, he began an itinerant lifestyle, travelling between mathematical institutions until his death. He never owned a home, nor even rented one. He would turn up at fellow mathematicians’ houses, often randomly and unannounced, with the intent of staying there for several months working on mathematics. After collaborating on some papers, Erdős would move to another mathematician’s house. All of his belongings fitted in one suitcase. These were a change of clothes (all silk due to allergies) and mathematical papers. His hosts often took to cooking his food, preparing his tax returns, and usually washing his few clothes several times a week. His renown as a mathematician was such that, following the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, Erdős was uniquely allowed to enter and exit Hungary as he pleased. He often drank over twenty cups of coffee a day, and in 1971 started on an amphetamine addiction that he insisted fuelled his creativity. His vocabulary was idiosyncratic; an atheist, he often spoke of “The Book,” where God had written down the most elegant mathematical proofs. Other peculiarities of Erdős’ patois include:
    • Epsilons (children, after the mathematical symbol for small quantities),
    • Bosses (women),
    • Slaves (men),
    • Noise (music),
    • Poison (alcohol),
    • The Supreme Fascist, or the SF (God, who he blamed for hiding his glasses, his passport and mathematical proofs),
    • Captured (married),
    • Liberated (divorced),
    • Former mathematicians had “died”,
    • Dead people had “left”,
    • Giving mathematical lectures was “preaching”, and
    • samland (the United States), joeland (the Soviet Union), and israel (unsurprisingly, Israel). The lack of capitalization indicated that Erdős felt the country has failed to uphold individual freedoms.
    Although Erdős’ lifestyle meant he was a highly social mathematician, he hated human touch and almost certainly died a virgin.
    Erdős was one of the two most prolific mathematicians in history, along with Leonhard Euler (1707-1783); Erdős published more papers, mostly in partnership, whereas Euler (roughly pronounced oiler) published more pages, mostly by himself (except for the scribes who wrote down his workings, due to Euler’s blindness). Erdős wrote around 1,525 articles during his life, with collaborators numbering 511. His constant collaboration led to a 1969 article by Casper Goffman (whose Erdős number is 2) titled “And what is your Erdős number?” Erdős is assigned the Erdős number 0. Direct collaborators of Erdős are assigned the Erdős number 1. Collaborators of these direct collaborators are assigned the Erdős number 2. Collaborators of these receive the Erdős number 3, and so on. Around 200,000 mathematicians have an assigned Erdős number, and it is estimated that over 90% of professional mathematicians have an Erdős number of less than 8.

    1. (Part 2)
      Of course, this has led to the creation of the Erdős-Bacon number. This is the sum of a person’s Erdős and Bacon numbers, providing they have both. The astronomer Carl Sagan (Erdős number 4, Bacon number 2), the physicist Stephen Hawking (Erdős number 4, Bacon number 2), and the physicist Richard Feynman (Erdős number 3, Bacon number 3) both have Erdős-Bacon numbers of 6. The actors Natalie Portman (Erdős number 5, Bacon number 2) and Colin Firth (Erdős number 6, Bacon number 1) both have Erdős-Bacon numbers of 7. The lowest recorded Erdős-Bacon number is 3, held by the mathematician Daniel Klietman (Erdős number 1, Bacon number 2, due to being a mathematics advisor and extra on the set of Good Will Hunting).
      That said, Kevin Bacon is not the most well-connected actor in Hollywood. Brett Tjaden has created the Oracle of Bacon, a program designed to use the Internet Movie Database to calculate any actor’s Bacon number. Also, the algorithm calculates how well a particular actor serves in terms of connectedness, with the most well-connected being deemed the Center of the Hollywood Universe. Currently, Kevin Bacon is only the 370th most well-connected actor in Hollywood. The current Center is Harvey Keitel. However, one actor who may not wish to be connected to him is Nicole Kidman. According to rumours, Keitel was fired from the set of Eyes Wide Shut (1999) after getting slightly carried away whilst method acting and surreptitiously ejaculating into Nicole Kidman’s hair.

    2. Amazing. Never heard of this chap.

    3. You've never heard of Kevin Bacon? He was in Footloose!

    4. Joking aside, you can now say that one of the two most prolific mathematicians who ever lived loved himself some speed. And if you're curious, the figure oft considered the most naturally talented mathematician who ever lived was Srinivasa Ramanujan. He wasn't into amphetamines. He didn't even eat meat.

      I just think as many people as possible should know about Ramanujan.

    5. If you want a demonstration of how brilliant Ramanujan was, look up the Ramanujan sum on Wikipedia. It'll break your brain.

  3. The general constant obsession with a layman's understanding of 'dopamine' and 'addiction' is, ironically, depressing and indeed boring. However I enjoyed this post!

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