I've heard a lot of advice over the years on how to set up your writing space. There are entire books written on the matter. There are a lot of good suggestions like keeping your writing space uncluttered and removing any distractions. This goes hand-in-hand with setting a routine. Visit your writing space everyday at the same time for a minimum length of time. This is all sound advice and can lead to great writing habits. My problem is, most of this advice doesn't work for me. I am a coffee shop writer.
I write about 98% of my new material in coffee shops. This habit arose a few years ago when I was newly divorced and my new apartment felt empty. It served to remind me that my life was not going the way I had planned. I found by packing up my laptop and hoofing it to a neighborhood coffee shop, it was much easier to focus on the task at hand. My writing sessions became far more productive away from home to the point where I eventually sold my desk. It was just one more surface to pile stuff on.
I can and have written in any number of places other than coffee shops -- in bed, on the couch, on the train or bus, in doctor's office waiting rooms, standing in line at the post office, and once, sitting in a Las Vegas casino. But these times are the exception, not the rule. These are the times when my muse has shown up with an entire army and the story is pulsing through my veins so hard it is all I can do to get it onto the page at the same rate it comes to me. These are the times where nothing short of the apocalypse is going to keep me from writing. And even then, I am sure my full attention would not be on the end of civilization as we know it.
I wish I could say I wake up every day feeling the story that urgently. But I don't. Most days I wake up knowing I want to write -- right after I watch a Firefly re-run. Or maybe after I just take a quick peek at the latest book I've downloaded to my Kindle. Or maybe after I have spent just half an hour catching up on all those blogs I want to follow. (Hi, Fellow Crusaders!) I think we have all been there. Half an hour turns into two hours, then it is lunchtime, and I remember I really need to do laundry if I am going to have something clean to wear to work tomorrow. It is a downward spiral that leads to very little writing.
The surest way for me to write is to pack up my writing essentials and leave the house while I am still too groggy to recognize there are much easier things I can be doing with my day than trying to come up with the right words to do justice to the brilliant story inside me.
I live in Chicago and I don't own a car. I haven't owned a car in almost nine years. I think I have been behind the wheel of a car once since I got rid of my car. And that was just to move someone from one parking space to another to avoid a parking ticket. That means when I go out to write, I am either walking or taking public transit. Fortunately, I am lucky enough to live in a neighborhood where I have seven different coffee shops that I like to go to write. There are probably half a dozen more than I enjoy writing at when I feel like venturing outside of my 'hood. All are locally owned. Not a chain among them. There are different things I look for in a coffee shop -- essentials for setting up my writing space, if you will.
1. Outlets -- My number one concern when I choose a shop to write in is whether or not I can plug in my laptop. If I am going to sit and linger for a few hours, chances are, I am going to outlast my battery. A coffee shop with lots of outlets gets a higher rating on my list of Places I Can Write.
2. Wi-Fi -- Admittedly, Internet access is a double edged sword. It can just as easily prevent me from writing. But I still consider it necessary for two reasons. First, I prefer streaming music while I write rather than listening to my personal music library. Second, occasionally I have a legitimate writing need for some of that vast knowledge that can be found thanks to All-Knowing-Google. Sometimes I just need to know how long a bus trip from Topeka to Chicago would take. Or I need to find a perfect quote from King Lear to help my MC figure out where her sister is hiding out. Wi-Fi is a must-have.
3. Iced Tea -- Okay, the irony of my need to write in coffee shops is that I really despise coffee. I can't stand the taste or smell and I have no desire to experiment with various amounts of sugar, cream, syrups or other ways to improve it. I would much rather just drink something I like without adding anything. Like iced tea. So my coffee shops have to serve iced tea. And it is really great if they have it year-round. For some reason, some places stop serving it in the winter. Of course I can get around this by ordering hot tea and a cup of ice, but this once led to a rather humorous encounter with a rude barista at a place I rarely frequent anymore. It just makes my life easier if they have iced tea even when there is a wind-chill of -12 outside. If they have flavor choices and meet the previous two requirements, they have earned a very loyal and frequent customer.
Other things come into play when selecting Places I Can Write In, like food selection, number of seats, friendliness of staff, and restroom cleanliness. I find different projects lead me to different coffee shops. My first novel was written almost entirely in a shop in my old neighborhood. It sadly closed down last year, and I am convinced the slow pace of my revisions is due largely to the fact that I can't go back there to work on it. I actually set part of my novel in that very coffee shop and more than one of my short stories has taken place in a coffee shop.
Maybe the experts would say I am doing it wrong, that I would be better off setting up a quiet corner at home. But the fact of the matter is, this works for me. There is no one way to get into a writing routine. You just have to figure out what you need and then find it or create it. What works for you?
Photo by Sura Nualpradid.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.