Listen, it’s true. There are some writer perks. Long before there were virtual offices and remote working environments, writers and moms (and a few others with oddball jobs) were the only people staying home to work. And it’s no lie to say that it’s one of the best things about being a writer—the house clears out, I’m (possibly) still in my pajamas, I pour a cup of coffee, spend a few minutes reading the headlines, and then it’s time to stare down that white page and roll my imagination out like a red carpet.
But having been a professional writer for over twenty years now, there comes a point where the solitude snaps at you like one of those hypervigilant Chihuahuas. You want to be around PEOPLE. Just not too many. And no one who likes to chat it up for hours. You have to strike the right balance. And typically, a coffee house is the place to be.
There’s sort of an unwritten rule at coffee houses—say ‘hi’ to those you know, stop for a quick chat, but then let them be. If their laptop is out, they’re doing work. If not, they’re probably waiting on someone. Make it quick and move along.
So it’s a terrific place to feel the warmth of human contact without compromising precious work time. And that time is PRECIOUS! You’ve got a certain number of minutes or hours sitting there and you have to make it count, right?
Coffee houses also happen to be really energizing. All around you are people CREATING! You can see it in their faces—pure , passionate concentration. Everything around them has faded. And for me, as I watch them absorbed in what they’re doing, I find myself drawn to my own project—inspired by how hard they’re working or concentrating or reading. The energy around a coffee house is almost palpable. Business meetings. Friend meetings. Writers. Business people. Students. All in the same workplace. All taking the bull by the horns, so to speak. Each a jittery mess of caffeinated buzz. Speaking of caffeinated buzz—
Coffee! First, let me address the tea drinkers. Totally legit. I mean, I don’t understand it, but I respect it.
But for me, it’s coffee. It always has been. It seems that coffee and writing came into my life at the same time. I can’t think of one without thinking of the other.
Let me tell you a story. I once got diagnosed with an illness. Which illness is unimportant. You have an imagination. Just pick one. The doctor sat me down and said that my life was going to change and part of that meant that there were certain foods and drinks I was no longer going to be able to have.
Now, let me insert here that I’m a foodie. That’s a fancy way of saying I like to eat. He handed me this piece of paper that contained a long list of things I wasn’t going to be able to consume anymore. On that list was coffee.
And I just resolved that day that I would beat the illness in one small way—I was going to find a way to drink coffee.
I gave everything else up. But to this day I still drink coffee. (On another day, I’ll tell you all the crazy things I did working coffee back into my life. It’s one of those inspiring stories. Just kidding. You’ll think I’m nuts.)
The point I’m making is that my office space is important to me, along with everything that comes with it. For those who go to an office, they have their breakrooms and water coolers and such, plus their work area, which they create to make their own. So writers have to create their own, valuable writing spaces, whether at home or away.
Sometimes I’m at a coffee house for six hours. I’ll last longer than the shift working there. And when I get home, I have to change clothing because I smell like coffee. But that, my friends, is a good day at the office.
Here are some tips to getting the most out of your writing time at a coffee house:
- Observe people for a bit, but don’t get caught up in eavesdropping on a conversation. (Hard to do, I know.) Let people energize you but not distract you.
- Bring earphones. Not for listening, but for blocking out noise if need be. Sometimes the music can get a little loud, or be the wrong kind for what you’re trying to write.
- If you’re there long enough to get two drinks, get one that’s decaff. Caffeine is a great starter, but too much can cause jitters and have the opposite effect intended. I personally recommend pure coffee or tea rather than the “foo-foo” drinks. Whip cream and sugar and tons of milk taste great in the moment, but they can cause a crash later. Not only that, they’re easier to suck down fast, and you want a beverage that’s going to go the mile with you.
- Make sure you’re also drinking water. Starbucks serves triple purified water for free, and most houses offer refillable water. Keep hydrated or your concentration will go down the tubes.
- Shorter times can be more valuable than longer times. If you know you have only a two-hour window, you’re more likely to lock it down and get to work, rather than check social media and stare out the window.
- Make sure your computer is charged. Seats by outlets are prime real estate and are usually taken. Try to be gracious, too. If you see someone in need of an outlet, offer to share your table if you have an outlet.
At the end of the day, I don’t mind paying $4/day for office space. I have a feeling I’m much more productive making that investment. But listen, don’t let me fool you—I stay in my sweats and don’t shower on certain days too. I mean, what kind of writer would I be, otherwise?