Leaves of Grass: Writing Under the Influence


On Writing


To celebrate today’s holiday, we bring you an excerpt from our latest Paris Review Editions book, The Writer’s Chapbook: A Compendium of Fact, Opinion, Wit, and Advice from “The Paris Review” Interviews. These quotes are pulled from the chapter “Do You Write Under the Influence?” Enjoy. —Jeffery Gleaves

“I’ve found that there’s only one thing that I can’t work on and that’s marijuana. Even acid I could work with. The only difference between the sane and the insane is that the sane have the power to lock up the insane. Either you function or you don’t. Functionally insane? If you get paid for being crazy, if you can get paid for running amok and writing about it … I call that sane.” —Hunter S. Thompson

“I’ve tried it long ago, with hashish and peyote. Fascinating, yes, but no good, no. This, as we find in alcohol, is an escape from awareness, a cheat, a momentary substitution, and in the end a destruction of it. With luck, someone might have a fragmentary Kubla Khan vision. But with no meaning. And with the steady destruction of the observing and remembering mind.” —Conrad Aiken

“The hallucinogens produce visionary states, sort of, but morphine and its derivatives decrease awareness of inner processes, thoughts, and feelings. They are painkillers, pure and simple. They are absolutely contraindicated for creative work, and I include in the lot alcohol, morphine, barbiturates, tranquilizers—the whole spectrum of sedative drugs. As for visions and heroin, I had a hallucinatory period at the very beginning of addiction, for instance, a sense of moving at high speed through space. But as soon as addiction was established, I had no visions—vision—at all and very few dreams.” —William S. Burroughs 

“Television was probably my first real drug. I have little doubt that it fired off the same dopamine receptors in my brain that marijuana later did.” —Chris Ware

“What I do get is, say if I was in an apartment high on mescaline, I felt as if the apartment and myself were not merely on East Fifth Street but were in the middle of all space-time. If I close my eyes on hallucinogens, I get a vision of great scaly dragons in outer space, they’re winding slowly and eating their own tails. Sometimes my skin and all the room seem sparkling with scales, and it’s all made out of serpent stuff. And as if the whole illusion of life were made of reptile dream.” —Allen Ginsberg

“Liquor, in my parents’ world, was always your reward at the end of a hard day—or an easy day, for that matter—and I like to observe that old family tradition. But I’ve never drunk for inspiration. Quite the contrary—it’s like the wet sponge on the blackboard. I do now and then take a puff of grass, or a crumb of Alice Toklas fudge, when I’ve reached the last drafts of a poem. That’s when you need X-ray eyes to see what you’ve done, and the grass helps. Some nice touches can fall into place.” —James Merrill

“Ah, ‘that useful substance,’ as Pynchon reasonably calls it. The kind of grass we had back in the mid to late eighties was very conducive, not just to having fun, but creatively as well. Read back the next day, a lot of what I’d written stoned the night before might be nonsense, but there’d be the germ of something I couldn’t have accessed in my normal state, and that something could be worked up properly while clear-eyed. Marijuana is so integral to But Beautiful that it’s scandalous I wasn’t able to claim what I’d spent as a tax break. But then, in this century, when skunk came completely to dominate the marketplace, I gradually gave it up. It wasn’t giving me any of the things I’d looked for and was giving me a lot of the things I wasn’t—paranoia, brain damage.” Geoff Dyer

“I’ve long used marijuana as an editorial tool, and recommended it to others. It really is like putting on another pair of eyes. It allows you, above all, to see the entire forest, not just a bunch of trees—or vice versa, sometimes. I’ve usually used it to edit, not write. But I did write large sections of The Other Paris stoned—I suppose because I happened to possess a particularly sharp strain of sativa. It’s probably the first time I’ve ever done it in a premeditated fashion over a period of time, used pot to kind of help me out of a certain kind of freeze at certain points in the writing. Of course, cannabis can also make you lose the thread or dawdle over word choices.” —Luc Sante


The Writer’s Chapbook is on sale now. This chapter aside, we would argue that it makes the perfect graduation gift …