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I find it curious that my all of favorite writers were smokers. J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Stephen Crane, Mark Twain, Edward Abbey, William Faulkner—all of these wordsmiths were avid devotees of either pipes or cigars (or both). So why is it that writing and tobacco seem to be such close bedfellows?
For some, it is part of the writing ritual. Like making a fresh cup of coffee or sharpening a row of pencils, the process of filling a briar or lighting a cigar helps many writers get into their “writing space”—that delicate frame of mind where ideas are born and where (if you’re lucky) they make the awkward transition from abstract conceptualization to concrete form.
Of course, tobacco is also a stimulant, and a little stimulation never hurts when you are trying to crank out a steady number of manuscript pages. More importantly, perhaps, the rituals associated with smoking provide a type of distraction which is sometimes helpful in generating ideas. For me, some of my most creative moments have occurred when I wasn’t thinking about writing at all. Instead, I was doing something mundane, like mowing the grass or talking a walk. Maybe for these authors, smoking did something similar.
Pipe smoking, in particular, is an inherently contemplative activity. If you try to rush it or fail to tend the flame properly, it won’t work—much like the act of writing itself. Thus you’d never picture Jack Kerouac furiously typing on his roll of computer paper with an imported meerschaum between his teeth. He, like John Steinbeck and Dylan Thomas, were cigarette guys, hard drinking and hard writing—not really the philosophical types.
So I wonder how many bowls of tobacco went into creating The Lord of the Rings or Huckleberry Finn? Both were years in the making, and had their authors not indulged in a bit of nicotine distraction, would these books have ever come about at all? Maybe in the next life we can sit down with these guys for a smoke and find out.