We’ve all seen them at the local Starbucks or equivalent: some jackass with a laptop, sipping on a latte, probably working on a screenplay. Or the Great American Novel, even if they’re neither in America nor American in the first place. They have that far-away look in their eyes that says, “I’m creating art. This is my legacy.” And then another self-satisfied sip of a latte. It’s a douchebag writing in a coffee shop.
Thing is, that douchebag could be me.
All right, there are a few differences. First of all, I don’t drink lattes. They’re like drinking a bucket of carbs, and I already live a sedentary lifestyle as a writer, and I want to be able to see my toes in five years. I save my carbs for pizza and cheeseburgers. Second, I don’t give two fucks — not even one come to think of it — about writing a Great Anything Novel. I just want to write, be read, and go about my business.
But laptop? Check. Faraway look? Double check. I rock one of those the rest of the day too. But why go to a coffee shop at all? Why not stay home in my quiet little bubble?
Well, it’s worth noting that my quiet little bubble isn’t actually that quiet. I don’t remember the last apartment I’ve lived in that wasn’t full of the steady roar of traffic. Or at the very least the startling growl of a scooter whipping by. Such is life in the big city of Taipei, Taiwan.
This comfy little bubble of mine is also full of distraction. I have sofas and a bed for napping. There are snacks for snacking. A dog that occasionally can’t tolerate me paying more attention to the glowy flat thing on the table than I do to her, and a wet tennis ball appears in my lap. And said glowy flat thing on the table is full of games just begging me to play for a while. I hear their siren call even now: If you won’t save the human race from alien invaders, who will? Or you could just shoot something in the face… And then, of course, there’s the Internet with its infinite ways to fritter away an hour or six.
So there are distractions to compete with at home. A coffee shop has none of these things. My dog tends to stay home as she’s not welcome in most establishments that serve food. I keep my laptop relatively clean of games. I avoid wifi when I’m out and about, so there goes the Internet.
And the coffee shop also offers me another thing that I don’t get at home. No, not caffeine. I keep myself well-stocked with my drug of choice. I mean human contact, but without all the unpleasantness of actually talking to one of them. Ew. Definitely not while I’m writing.
I live with my domestic partner and dog. (My “domestic partner” is a heterosexual cis-gender female human, but since “girlfriend” doesn’t cover it and “fiancee” has an expiration date, I go with a more neutral expression. My dog, for the record, is a dog.) My domestic partner works 7 days a week for fairly long hours. I get a lot of alone time. The dog, while lovely, is not very intellectually challenging, nor does she inspire the two-legged characters I tend to write about.
So I go out to be around people, to observe them and get a feel for the ebb and flow of conversation, observe how people interact with each other, and lose myself mediocre jazz mix CDs. The space around me is filled with a foreign language, which I speak, but I find easy to tune out. It’s just me, a laptop, and a cup of coffee. My computer games occasionally call from home, but I can ignore them.
Best of all, the act of going to a coffee shop to write is a beautiful little state trigger. I am going out of my way, and spending money, to perform a specific task: writing. It would certainly be much better if I had a quiet little nook here at home where I could sip a coffee or a Scotch, put my feet up by a roaring fire, and compose a masterpiece that will live through the ages.
Unfortunately, I live in a second-floor two-bedroom* apartment whose office window faces a busy thoroughfare. The dog, instead of sleeping on my feet like my furry muse, growls at the strange noises of delivery trucks and stray cats in heat. And within arms reach are a dozen other diversions to entertain myself with when I should be creating diversions for others to entertain themselves with.
I’ll happily be the douchebag at the cafe if it helps me do that. So in summary, a cafe has the white noise of generic jazz, people to watch when I need a quick reference to what they do outside of my own imagination. And coffee.
*I’ve since moved to the twelfth floor in another building on the same street. It’s still freaking loud.
This post is part of an on-going series that will soon be made into a book under the working title Pretentious Sh*t That Works: Writing Advice That You’ve Heard Before and Should Be Doing. If you’d like to contribute, leave a comment with your thoughts and opinions. Especially valuable comments may even make the book alongside your name and work.