There are so many fantastic stereotypes about writers. We’re creative loners. We want everyone to listen to our stories but only if we don’t have to make eye-contact with them. We walk around with our heads in the clouds. We’re more interested in the lives of the people in our heads than the people around us. We are powered by coffee.
Yes, I tend to drift off into potent daydreams.* I do tend to care more for my characters than some of the real people I know. I go through stretches where I would, indeed, rather be alone with my laptop. But I would have scoffed at anyone who would have suggested that coffee is the most effective lubricant for a writer.
If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time you’ve probably stumbled across the fact that J.K. Rowling is one of my biggest writing heroes. I adore her. She is amazing. And I’ve heard several times that she wrote a good portion of the Harry Potter books at a café. So of course I had to try it. We writers are supposed to study and learn from the masters, right?I zipped off to my local Barnes & Noble one day to give it a try. There is a Starbucks in our store. Nope. Too crowded and the atmosphere just didn’t seem right. However, in the same shopping center there is also a Panera Bread. So I thought, “Hmm. Coffee, shortbread cookies … I think I’ll give this a try.”
Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve found my new office.
Working at a coffeehouse has a few distinct advantages that I encourage all writers to explore. My Panera Bread has a fantastic, relaxed atmosphere. They alternate between playing generic soft jazz and upbeat New Age music. People go there to chat and socialize, but to keep a lid on it. There is no shouting or rowdiness, but at the same time there is enough of a background of white-noise talking that my brain doesn’t scatter.
Sometimes the other patrons provide unexpected inspiration. The very first time I sat down at Panera Bread to work a couple sat at the table right next to me. They were on a first date, having met on some internet dating site. I proceeded to listen to their date in its entirety. The man, bless his heart, came on way too strong. After about fifteen minutes I wanted to stand up and say, “Okay, time out. Take a deep breath and give her a chance to talk.” Of course, after another fifteen minutes, when he did settle in, I realized that she was the kind of woman who probably preferred to listen to someone talk so that she was off the hook. It was character study at its finest. They got up to leave before I was done writing. I am eternally curious about whether they went on a second date.
Impromptu character tutorials are only one of the reasons writing at a café is a brilliant idea. Focus is another one. At home I have so many distractions it would make your head spin. Between the internet, household chores that always scream to be done, and cats that need to keep tabs on what I’m doing at all time and who believe that the only appropriate activities for me are feeding them and petting them, it can take me an hour from the time I plan to sit down to the time when I actually do.
At Panera Bread there is nothing to do but sip coffee and write. There is enough distraction to engage the floaty part of my mind but not enough to drag the part that means business along with it. If you have procrastination or focus issues, I highly recommend that you find yourself a café and go work. Because there’s nothing that will make your fingers move faster than a complete stranger catching you staring at the walls and drooling as the gears in your writer brain grind.
And I know this sounds silly, but the tables at Panera Bread are just the right height and the chairs are just comfy enough without being too relaxing. I don’t have a real desk at home and it gets annoying to hold my laptop on my actual lap for too long. Comfort is key here.Ah yes, and then there’s the coffee. Oh coffee! You marvelous beverage! You purveyor of caffeine and cream! How I adore thee! There is nothing quite so helpful to writing than a delicious sip of something warm and tasty as you work. It keeps your brain hopping without filling you up too much. I never used to like coffee, but something about having a cuppa while working soothes my soul. I guess I’m a big old writers cliché after all.
Okay, so my parting words and advice to you are to trundle yourself off to your nearest Panera Bread, Atlanta Bread Company, Starbucks, Saxby’s, or whatever local one-off store you have near you for a writing session. It’s such a simple thing but for me, at least, it’s made all the difference in the world.
*Actually, I have a funny story about this. I was at lunch with my best friend Kristine once years ago. We were having a normal conversation when suddenly my mind wandered off to its happy place. I stopped listening and followed along the happy trails of whatever story was rolling around in my head at the time. Then suddenly I realized Kristine was saying, “Merry. Merry. Merry!” I blinked and focused and said, “Huh?” Kristine gasped in relief, genuine fear leaving her eyes, and said, “Oh my gosh, I thought I’d lost you for a minute there.” True story.