Friday, November 9, 2012

Writing in the Coffee Shop

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
nov 22 059Writing at home is difficult sometimes.

I do much of my writing at home, most of it before 5:30 a.m.  But I’ve been trying to write a little extra each day for the past week or so (inspired by the intrepid NaNoWriMoers).

The problem is that my house can become pretty distracting during the day—likely one reason why I write so early in the morning.  The week before the election was especially annoying with the automated phone calls.  Then there’s the dryer buzzer, the cat who likes to sit on my keyboard, the housework that needs to be done…

So Wednesday, after dropping off a carpool at the middle school, I set off for the coffee shop.  The library was still closed and I needed extra coffee anyway.

I haven’t been in Starbucks for a while, and felt that I’d accidentally stepped into another dimension.  It seemed to be populated by young women named Dakota and striking men wearing sunglasses indoors. Unfortunately, I was wearing carpool couture and putting on makeup hadn’t crossed my mind.  I just ordered my small coffee, dark roast (they managed to translate that order into Starbuck language) and settled down at a small table with my story.

I didn’t have my laptop with me so I pulled out a battered composition notebook that still had Math and my daughter’s name written on it (and many perfectly-good blank pages in it.)

And I wrote a good 1000 words there in about 30 minutes. 

There are definitely different types of coffeehouse visits.  To me, they fall in two groups—the visits where the writer is looking for characters and inspiration, and the visits where the writer needs to get some writing done, stat.

I used to fall more in the prior camp, but lately, the only times I find myself at the coffee shop is when I’m frantically trying to meet a deadline or two. 

What helps if you’re trying to get work done at coffee shops:

Notebook—I do prefer to write in a notebook when I’m writing away from home.  It’s just easier to manage and I don’t worry about sloshing coffee on my computer.  And I don’t feel particularly conspicuous.

Several pencils—I haven’t gotten to the point where I want to write in pen.

Music and headphones—I’d forgotten how loud the coffee shop could be.  Fortunately, I had earbuds in my pocketbook…and my phone, which has Pandora on it.  I have a station for New Age music and I plugged into it.  (Might want to make sure your data plan supports music streaming if you do this through your phone.  But Pandora has saved me several times when I was writing in the carpool line and someone was having a noisy cellphone conversation in the next car.)

Having your manuscript or outline on the cloud—I’ve found it handy to be able to refer to my story or an outline when I’m away from home.  You can upload your manuscript/outline to a place like Google Docs where you can access it from anywhere, using your laptop or smart phone.  (It’s free…you only need a gmail address to use it.)  Or you can access story planning software on your phone/laptop…like Mike Fleming’s Hiveword.

The rules I follow for writing in a coffee shop:

Watch the time—I try to make sure I’m not monopolizing a table for too long, unless the place is totally dead.  This also has the benefit of providing me with a deadline of sorts and I write quicker.

Put my back to the room—If I’m doing deadline-writing and not finding-characters-writing, then I sit where I can’t see people and just focus on my notebook.

Purchase regularly—If the coffee shop is very quiet and I stay a little longer…I make sure I keep buying things so I don’t wear out my welcome.  A coffee here, a pastry here.

Avoid connecting to the internet or using your smart phone…except when referring to your manuscript or outline on the cloud—I’m trying to avoid distractions by writing in a coffeehouse.  And the internet is the biggest distraction of all. 

Other posts on the topic:

Coffee Shop Etiquette by Bluestocking on the Bluestocking Blog.

10 Reasons Why Working at the Library is Better than the Coffee Shop—by April Borbon on Freelance Switch

That Jerk? C'est MoiMalcolm Gladwell for Wall Street Journal

There are other places where I’ll write…the library, the diner, the park.  Leaving home can definitely help me hit a word count goal. 

Do you ever have to escape your house to be able to write?  Where do you go?