Monday, July 11, 2005

A coffee shop is no place for a writer

Years ago, before I became serious about writing for a living, I used to love bringing my notebooks and pens into coffee shops. I loved the ones with atmosphere especially, such as Breaking New Grounds in Portsmouth, NH and Java Joe's in Portland, ME; they seemed writerly somehow. Maybe it was how their designers tried to make them Bohemian-looking, or that they lacked the corporate feel of a chain coffee shop.

What I really liked, of course, was not the act of writing in a coffee shop - quarters were too cramped and conversations and espresso machines were too loud - but the idea of being a writer writing in a coffee shop. I'd get easily distracted by others' conversations, or in-house reading material, or passersby on the street. That's why this novel has taken so many years to write.

Now that I am a mother without an office, however, I find I sometimes just need to get out of the house in order to focus. And because our area has no readily available happy writing place (namely, a spacious library with desks), I've found myself returning to my old love. Trouble is, all the old distractions are there. And then some.

I live too far away from my old favorites to go there regularly, so I've been working to find a new one. The place that advertises itself as a coffee shop in my town plays country music. (Don't they know they're only supposed to play jazz, classical, or indie music?) Starbucks, just half an hour away, has a kiddie corner. Thanks, I'm trying to escape toddlers, not attract them. One promising-sounding place was at an intersection so busy I couldn't look for it and focus on not getting killed.

I have one remaining hope: a tea house, also half an hour away. I like tea better than coffee, and this one is off the beaten path. If it doesn't work out, well, I have two choices: 1) suck it up and deal with the annoying distractions or 2) accept, once and for all, that coffee shops just don't have what it takes to help a writer work.


Blogger Ronn said...

I find that coffee shops make good places to brainstorm ideas with friends, talk over story ideas, and work out plot points. But when it comes to actually writing, they just don’t work for me. The constant milling about of people along with the noise and chaos just doesn’t make for a very conducive writing environment. Even the library near my house is too busy. But I think I’m spoiled by my new office with the door that I can use to close out the rest of the house.

11/7/05 1:58 PM  
Blogger Mary Louisa said...

I agree with ronn. I like mulling over my characters and thinking through scenes at the coffee shop, and I take a few notes when I do that. It's also fun to walk over to the magazine rack and get ideas for what characters look like or what they wear. But trying to compose there is hell. Let us know how the tea house measures up.

11/7/05 3:04 PM  

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