I stopped for lunch at a favorite coffee shop/restaurant the other day and started thinking all sorts of curmudgeonly thoughts. So instead of gently chiding myself, I decided to share them with you. Herewith my views on where writers write.
One of my favorite coffee shops stands out for a number of reasons—it’s really a pastry shop and probably loses money on the coffee service. It’s also distinct for having fewer tables and chairs than the space could accept. Those who sit there with a cup of coffee and a pastry watch the passersby on the sidewalk outside or lean over a book or magazine. The shop owner keeps a small bookshelf stocked with miscellaneous titles.
This coffee shop is not the usual place for people to claim a spot and go to work on their latest novel, and I rarely see someone with a computer when I go in. There is such a place, a cafe across the street, where students and workers and retirees fill the booths and counters and tables and chairs. It’s also loud.
In the town where I worked for twenty years and still visit regularly for other duties I have three regular spots for a coffee break or leisurely lunch. In each one I can expect to see a computer and someone typing away, or pondering the screen. I have no idea if any of these people are published writers, or even if they are doing creative work. They could be managing their finances, or writing to relatives overseas or playing solitaire. But what I do know is that I have no desire to join them.
Writing for me is work. I don’t mean that it’s hard. (It is that too sometimes.) I mean that I consider it a job. Just as I got dressed every morning and drove to an office and before that sat at my desk and ghost wrote how-to books and edited all manner of printed copy, now I get dressed every morning, go downstairs to my desk and plunk myself down in front of the screen. I try to figure out how to cover up a murder, but not too well. I want my sleuth to figure it out. Sometimes I dawdle over email or an interesting blog post or even Facebook. But I soon nudge myself away from these temptations and turn to my work in progress. I have a word quota to meet, and plot and character problems to solve. And I can’t solve them if I’m not dealing with them.
I don’t consider myself an aberration. Most of the successful writers I know have learned the art or skill of self-discipline. Writing is not leisure activity, nor is it entertainment. We are not Parisians living in garrets so cold that we can’t remain at home during the day to write and so flee to a heated cafe. Perhaps a small apartment packed with a couple of infants might justify a trek to the local coffee shop, but other than that I am skeptical of writing in public.
There are certain truisms in this business. Writers write. Sometimes we talk about it if asked questions, and sometimes we talk about ourselves as writers if asked even more specific questions. But mostly we write. We think up stories, organize ideas for essays, read and review books, and support other writers. But mostly, we write. At home. Or in an office. Every day.