Thursday, March 13, 2008

Writing in Cafés

Tip of the Day: When you attend your first ever book club meeting and you offer a recommendation of a great women’s fiction author, make sure to get the name right and not send everyone off looking for the main character of your last novel.

I think I’ve mentioned it on A2A before but if I haven’t, I’ll tell you now. I do all of my writing in cafés. Really. I have tried to write in other places and it just doesn’t work out for me. Home=No. There are three super adorable distractions there that keep me from being very productive in the writing sense. Although, I have managed to get some line editing done at home. Go figure. Library=Nah. I tried it once and it was just so uncomfortable. And it is like, a mob scene in there on the weekends with people lining up for the Internet access. Hotels/B&Bs=No. The reason? I don’t get to go anywhere! :-) Refer back to the three adorable distractions I mentioned above. I did go on one writing retreat for a weekend last year and managed to get a good chunk of writing done. So this one could also be a yes if I could figure out how to get away more. But back to writing at cafés. Sometimes I wonder why I can get so much work done there. Because I really do get a lot done with my trip or two to Starbucks a week. It’s like every minute of my three hours is jam-packed with productive writing. Never mind the constant noise from the music they always have pumping or the chatter of all the other customers. For some reason that stuff doesn’t bother me.

A couple of months ago my friend and fellow YA writer Amanda Morgan blogged about how writing at Starbucks was difficult for her. This gave me the idea for today’s post. Since I’m there so often, I figured I’d share my tips for writing in a café successfully.

1) Scope out the place first.

Does this sound weird? Maybe. But it gives you an excuse to stop in for a coffee anyway. Before you try to write in a café you need to know it a bit. So try a few different Starbucks/Caribous/Paneras or whatever. Get a coffee and sit down. Evaluate the room—Is there good seating? How big of a table will you need? Does the sun stream in right at your perfect writing spot? If so, look at the shade and figure out how to close it (yeah, I really do this kind of stuff. And note: Starbucks people do not care if you close their shade where you are sitting.) And MOST importantly, where are the outlets to plug in your laptop? You’ll want to know exactly where to go the first time you go there to write.

2) Go to the bathroom first.

Now I sound like your mother right? But you should go to the bathroom before you ever get there or as soon as you enter the café. Like, before you even order your drink. This will avoid situations like the one Mandy mentioned in her blog on what to do if you have to go the bathroom while you are writing. And if you do have to go to the bathroom then definitely bring your stuff with you. I don’t pack things up—I just pick up my laptop (still open), my wallet, and keys and carry everything with me. I leave something like my jacket or empty bag to hold my spot.

3) Pick a seat.

Having anyone read over your shoulder will drive you nuts. And it is creepy. So pick a seat at a table where preferably your laptop screen is facing you and a wall.

4) Bring your own water.

This is me trying to maximize on the most time possible here. You should still buy a coffee or whatever when you get there (and leave the empty cup on your table. A sorta hey—I paid to sit my butt here sign to the world.). But it won’t last the entire three hours and who can afford to keep buying coffees? I always bring my water bottle with me when I write.

5) Be nice to the baristas

I still haven’t run into a mean one and I’ve written in a number of cafés. But once you pick out your favorite café to write in you’ll be seeing the same baristas a lot so make friends. If they are anything like mine, they’ll even be supportive and promise to buy your books and give you yummy samples.

That’s it for my tips on what works for me. Did I miss anything? Any of you other café writers want to pipe in if I did? If you aren’t a café writer, where do you do your writing? And are you going to try out the cafés now? :-)

Kristina, Miss Soon-to-Pub


DeenaML said...

I bet that I COULD get a lot of writing done at my local Spot Coffee if I bothered to take myself there on the weekends. It's a really cool place, but I get so comfy at home sitting on my couch, even if I do get distracted by the manpanion or TV or baking cookies.... :)

Emily Marshall said...

I'd love to become a cafe writer, but anytime I've tried it I get too distracted. I'm the type of person that needs relative quiet to think productively. I want to give it a few more tries, though. I found the library a good place a few times, since I can find a quieter spot there. But the cafes I seemed to be going into are all really noisy.

Ghost Girl (aka, Mary Ann) said...

I love this post, tina! I have spent many saturdays, and any other days I could break away, at my favorite cafe and got a ton of writing done. The baristas know me by name and are really great about refilling the hot water in my tea pot. There are only two things that really get me:

The person with that voice that could shatter glass, no matter how quiet he/she is trying to be. Makes it hard to concentrate. Solution: headphones and my iTunes...usually instrumental--something from The Piano or Harry Potter.

The other, when the coffee grinding gets to spastically loud. Solution: once again, headphones and my iTunes...and make sure I sit as far away from the bar as possible.

And I totally agree about the bathroom!

Amanda Morgan said...

So you know I'm saving this list, right? ;-)

And thanks for mentioning my blog! You rock! :)

Kate Fall said...

Tina, this is a great list! Honestly, you should send this in to the SCBWI bulletin or similar venue. I've never seen a list like this before. I totally wouldn't have thought to bring water, etc.

I think I'd get a lot of writing done out of the house but I don't know how I'd convince my family to unlock the doors and let me out.

And Mary Ann, I've written to the Chamber of Secrets soundtrack too!

Kristina Springer said...

Deena-- I think I'd totally be on the Internet or watching TV etc. too if I were home! Leaving the house seems to be the only way to make myself concentrate.

Em-- It's strange in that our library is not that quiet! It's seriously hopping every time I go in there!

GG-- OMG- you totally crack me up! And you're right- not sitting right by the baristas is a good idea! When I was on a long stint of writing at the Borders Cafe there was this guy that was ALWAYS in there when I was. He'd sit right next to me and sing these crazy songs the whole time. Ones I couldn't identify-- sounded tribal or something. So I've been on a really long stretch at Starbucks now and I about died when he came in to work there the other day too! But he sat far enough away that I couldn't hear him singing.

Mandy-- No prob! And you totally gave me the idea for it! :-)

Kate-- Ha! Unlock the doors-- I love it! My kids give me a guilt trip sometimes too. But mostly they are cool with it and used to it now. And they know they can get pretty much anything out of Daddy for dinner those nights that I'm not around. You also just reminded me that I still have to join SCBWI!

Lisa Schroeder said...

I don't get out to write as often as I'd like. Since I mostly write in the early morning hours, before work, and on the weekends while the kids are doing their own thing, I don't really need to leave. But I find when I do go, the change of scenery and knowing I'm there for a specific purpose - to write - helps me get a lot done!

Anonymous said...

After a whole year of writer's block, I decided to switch to handwriting my stuff rather than using a computer. But even that only helped for a short while. Then I realized that I just had too many distractions when I was at home, and decided to get over my fear of sitting somewhere alone and just going by my local pub (of which I've been a regular customer anyway) in the afternoons and write there.

It's worked wonder. Just today I sat there for 3 hours and filled 18 pages of my moleskine, refusing to get up until I reached the end of my story. I've written, well, at least 90% of what's in my notebook there, and it's 90% full :)

What I usually do with the stories I've written there is let them simmer for a while and a couple of days later I'll type them up and perfect them as much as I can at that moment. Re-read it a couple of days later and tweak.

But the start of every story I've written in the past 2 years has been rooted in a cafe :)