Snack tips for writers: 11 ways to fuel your practice
We dig into the snack-to-write habits of Substack’s food fellows, from the “proscasti-snack” to hot sauce to cure writer’s block. Warning: these tips are sure to make you salivate
In April, Substack welcomed 11 writers into our Food Intensive, a mini-fellowship where we collectively incubate ideas, deepen strategies, and hone the direction of their publications.
This week, our fellows discuss what snacks they keep on hand while writing. From the art of Leah Koenig’s “procrasti-snack” to the nefarious “peanut butter eaten from the jar with a spoon,” the food writers share what nourishment they take to keep their creative practice flowing and stave off the rumble of impending deadlines.
What snacks fuel your writing on Substack? Share your hors d’oeuvre of choice, plus nuggets of inspiration for fellow Substackers, in the comments.
I am always hungry. Writing about food or looking through my photos to add to my newsletter makes the hunger worse. I try to eat healthy things while I write because I can find myself going without lunch many days from sheer forgetfulness and would rather be full on good snacks than junk food.
During my years spent writing from a desk parked directly next to my bed—and just a few paces to the kitchen door—I like to think I have mastered the art of the midday snack, and also the procrasti-snack. Because the siren call of the popcorn bag only grows louder when a story deadline looms. Here’s my most recent procrasti-snack: plain yogurt, a drizzle of maple syrup, a sliced banana, and a sprinkle of peanut butter granola. Take that, deadline.
Here’s a snack that I consider a vital life-hack for any American wine drinker traveling at length in rural France, where savory breakfasts are scarce to non-existent. Confronted with jam and powdery baguettes, insipid pain au chocolat, and fruity yogurts, one thinks, good god, my kingdom for a breakfast sandwich! There is none to be had.
The only savory option regularly available at breakfast hours in the French countryside is the ubiquitous quiche lorraine, which, to its credit, contains many of the key elements of a breakfast sandwich: starch, egg, and pork. It invariably lacks, to my tastes, a dab of piquancy, which I add in the form of an iconic, shelf-stable American condiment that I carry in my backpack at all times.
I eat a lot of halloumi cheese. Sometimes, if I do a good job or I need the motivation to stick to something, I tempt myself with a kombucha. But also, I’ve worked in coffee shops forever, so I’m made at least 20% out of pastries.
If I’m really struggling, I’ll try to incentivize myself by dangling the possibility of going to a coffee shop and getting a pastry. I’m also very bread- and baguette-motivated.
Food is completely out of the question while I’m writing. Unless we count a dozen Nespresso pods (if it’s morning) or bourbon with an ice cube (if it’s late at night) as food. Okay, maybe there are some handfuls of cashews or a Siggi’s skyr or a dollop of peanut butter eaten from the jar with a spoon. But food is the last thing I can think of in a state of panic.
Once I have written, once the piece is finished, once the ending that had been so elusive has grown miraculously and organically from the process, once I am strung out from the up and down of coffee and bourbon—then and only then it is time for food. Which at that point can only be the New Jersey breakfast staple: a pork roll, egg, and cheese sandwich (yes, pork roll, not Taylor ham; I am from South Jersey).
Sometimes it’s trail mix, but usually it’s tortilla chips with a good salsa (I’m partial to the fire-roasted tomato variety from Trader Joe’s). My wife prefers a low/medium heat, but I spike mine with this:
When I get writer’s block, I add even more hot sauce. That usually helps.
I am not good at mindful eating when I am alone and writing. I typically pine for that super-seeded sourdough toasted in extra virgin avocado oil, smeared with moringa cream cheese and roasted garlic, topped with roasted red pepper, golden sunny-side-up eggs, furikake (Japanese sesame and nori and shiso [seaweed] seasoning), chili, and more avocado oil to finish.
I also love to drink a home brew of hibiscus, bissap (as called in francophone Africa) or zobo (as called in the north of Nigeria), also known as agua de jamaica in Mexican taquerias. I love to add heat from ginger and a complementary tang from citrus. I fell in love with this purple-rouge-hued drink as a young teenager when we lived in the Republic of Benin. After school, we would rush outside to meet the women carrying on their heads large buckets set onto circularly arranged scarves, with the bissap tucked within ice and water, while they called out, “Bissaaaaaap! Bissaaaaap!” Drinking it now, it is so refreshing and reinvigorates my adventurous spirit, just as it did when I was a thirsty young teenager.
So I don’t really eat—or even snack—when I’m writing, but I love having a pot of tea next to me. Usually it’s green tea but could also be pretty much any type of tisane. I don’t drink coffee (I get a lot of weird looks when I say this to people in Italy), so my caffeine hit comes from tea.
Also, holding a cup of it in my hands while thinking of the best lede to start a story helps me feel less stressed and fidgety. But if I’m working late into the night, then a glass of fizzy water, or when I’m truly stressed about a deadline, a G&T. I’m not kidding.
Since I have a full-time non-writing job and two young children, the vast majority of my writing happens after the kids have gone to bed in the evening, so I don’t often eat while writing. My ideal writing accompaniment—at least when I can find it, given recent shortages—is a bottle of Topo Chico. I’m convinced the bubbles stimulate my brain.
I’m not a prolific snacker; I’m more the almonds-in-a-bowl-under-the-monitor writer. But I am absolutely obsessed with this $10 locally made bag of granola, which I will happily eat any time of day.
I look to my freezer for interesting things I’ve baked prior—this must be in my DNA, because my mother was forever squirreling away halves of cakes and ice cream parfaits still in the glasses right in the freezer. Today, I have two loaves of Christmas pumpkin bread still wrapped and ready in my freezer. Seriously! And it’s both decadent and slightly odd at the same time to pull out a pumpkin-spice loaf in May, let it thaw on the counter, then cut a fat slice and take it with a cup of black tea to the window so I can write my newsletter and see the old sweetheart roses popping into bloom and scare off the deer if they wander toward my peonies.
Because the bread is already baked, I stay focused on writing. To me, writing a newsletter and testing a recipe require opposite sides of the brain. Those are for different days.
Do you rely on snacks to help fuel your creativity? Or do you prefer to wait until you’ve hit “publish” and reward yourself once you’ve finished? Share your food and writing survival tips in the comments.