Coffeeshop Writing 101

courtesy of George Eastman House photo commons on flickr

Me, as I am every day, at my writing desk.

Like many a-holes in New York, I do most of my writing in coffee shops.   My husband is one of those who finds this behavior reprehensible, although naturally being his faultless mate I am exempt from such damning judgment (I think).  And I do understand how silly it seems to a civilian – “Let me get this straight – you need to ‘concentrate’ on your ‘writing’ so you go to a public place where there will be Belle and Sebastian blasting, cheesedicks flirting with baristas, and dozens of other ‘writers’ working on their own laptops?”  The implication being that of course if you were really serious about the work, and not just with showing off to the world that you’re “writing” a “novel,” you would be sequestered at home, occasionally crumpling up pieces of paper and hurling them into the trash the way tortured writers always do in their generously cast biopics.  But who has paper anymore?  And for that matter, who in New York has a decent workspace at home?

I used to, actually.  There was a tiny room in our apartment with a window, ideally situated with a view of a cardinal-stocked tree, for poety feelings, and beyond, the bustling avenue, for nosiness purposes.  I always had a clean desk.  I would wake each morning and tap away at my laptop, a piping cup of coffee and the sunrise my only distractions.  The muse stopped by every day at 6 am to gently massage my shoulders and whisper encouraging inspirations into my ear.  I thought people who wrote in cafes were a-holes.  Then I had a child.

Guess what’s in that adorable little room now?  A crib and a changing table and a bookshelf full of my main reading material for the present, including such scintillating titles as “Baby Colors” and “Baby Animals.”  Guess what’s on my desk, wedged into another room now?  A huge stack of finger paintings.  At least someone’s getting work done.

But since I still harbor a crazy dream of publishing – okay, let’s for now say finishing – another novel, and since every time she sees a computer turned on Harper screams, “Skype! Skype!,” each weekend morning I leave her with my husband and tote my uncool PC notebook to my local coffee shop.  I have adapted to this strange new world.  I enter the café and scan for good tables, or, if there are too many other a-holes around seeking caffeiney inspiration, a quiet-looking person to join or bully.  My battery is fully charged, and I scoff at the losers who search around for an outlet.  They turn them off on weekends, suckers!  I pay my $4 table charge, I mean, buy a drink, and get down to business.

Now, maybe because my writing hours are so hard-won these days, or maybe just because I’m sort of a misanthropic jerk at heart, there are countless ways in which the other people at the café can offend me.  I feel there are (or should be) certain rules for coffeeshops of the laptoppy variety.  I mean, when I’m taking my toddler somewhere for a snack I don’t go to a café that I know is one of those quiet places where people are trying to work.  So I feel justified in shooting death-looks to people who bring noisy wee folk to my particular coffeeshop, which is usually, even on weekends, a quiet, keyboard-clacking sort of place.

Here are a few of the other quiet-coffeeshop-etiquette infractions that I feel should probably be punishable by death, or at least dirty looks:

1)      Skyping.  What the hell.  This, definitely please do at home.  I would feel awkward answering my cellphone in a coffeeshop.  I mean, how can you not feel like a huge, noisy, horrible a-hole as you scream your verbal excrement at your pixilated friends in a public place?  For the love of all that is holy, get real friends and meet them at the coffeeshop to whisper over cappuccinos, or skype at home.  Please.

2)      Unmuted computers.  Excuse me.  I know we are in a public place, and I know it’s not the library, but why on earth wouldn’t a person mute his or her computer?  The other day I sat beside a lady (she was checking in on her Pheonix online university classes, for real) whose computer made screeching, delayed “click” noises with every keystroke and curser click.  If one of these people visits a website with music we are all doomed.  Execrable.

3)      Friendliness.  Okay, I may be in the minority here, but I’m really actually not at the coffeeshop to slyly befriend fellow self-employed freelancers or loner aspiring screenwriters.  I’m actually here because the alternative is banishing my family to the playground for three hours at a time in 20-degree weather.  I mean, our apartment barely has doors.  Other than actually spending my invisible money to get a desk at one of those nifty writer’s collectives, this is my only option, and I really want to get this stupid novel revised.  Sometimes I’m even actually paying a babysitter.  So please, friendly people, go away.  Me no likey small talk.

I dream that someday I will have a proper office again, like maybe an adorable hut sequestered in a bowery garden.  I would also settle for a room with that impossible luxury, a door.  Didn’t someone once write something about “rooms of one’s own” or something of the sort?  But for now, that room of my own happens to be occupied by 20 or 30 other click-clacking a-holes, and I would appreciate it if they would at least stop clearing their throats.  I mean, honestly.



7 responses to “Coffeeshop Writing 101

  1. Perhaps that is your next novel. “The Coffee House Rules.” I think I saw the Cider House Rule but can’t remember.

    I also have the idea for a novel called “The Smoker’s Club.” That’s for all the smokers who congregate outside office buildings. And then there is a spy or serial killer or zombie or vampire. Or perhaps all of them.

  2. I’m pretty sure The Cider House Rules is about a bunch of writers who hang out at a coffeeshop that specializes in hot apple cider. I’m pretty sure that’s right.

  3. Many years ago (when YOU were one of the children wanting my attention when I needed some creative space) I decided to clean out a storeroom in the basement (yes, we have a whole basement!) that I had noticed was the one spot that didn’t flood and had a casement window looking out into little ravine in front of the house. The window even opened. AND, it had a door. That even closed. There was even an electrical outlet somewhere. Many hours of cleaning coal dust and spider communities and coats of paint later, it became my room. I told a friend of mine “this is going to change my life.”

  4. 1. this blog is awesome.
    2. there’s a solution to your problem #3 (potentially a solution to the other problems as well) — headphones. they are a necessity for a cafe (or shared workspace, in my case) if you don’t want to interact or get distracted. sometimes i put them in with nothing playing if i really don’t want to be disturbed yet need to focus so intensely that even music would be a distraction.
    3. harper is such a beauty!

  5. Hey Susie!! Thanks! That is a very good thought with the headphones. I think I haven’t used them much for a stupid reason: I hate how they feel in my ears. Wouldn’t it be perfectly easy to just get more comfortable ones? Well, you’d think. Wouldn’t you.

  6. Pingback: The Literary Mama | household words

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