Thursday, March 3, 2011

Coffee Shop Writing

There's been some discussion amongst the hard-scribbling coterie of Jungle Red on the merits of library writing. It certainly has it's appeal--quiet (or at least relative quiet, depending on your library of choice), the lack of household distractions (for those of us who don't have offices outside the home), and the set structure (one of the things we've been working at in our Writer's Challenge--a certain block of time set aside to do nothing but WRITE.)

All pluses, certainly. But I have to admit there is one big drawback for me. My local library doesn't have TEA. We all have our little addictions, our writing rituals, don't we? And mine is tea. I can make a pot at breakfast in the morning, nurse a first cup and then a second until lunch, then make another cup (or pot) in the late afternoon for that blessed second wind.

Now it doesn't matter how tepid and scummy that cup of tea gets, as long as it's next to my keyboard and can be sipped occasionally. Silly? Yes. But it works. And I can't quite get my head around working TEA-LESS.

This started me thinking about our other writing rituals--whether we write with distraction or without, and just how exactly our brains are wired. I have a friend who writes with old movies playing on the DVD player. Another who writes with choral music for background. Others who write in the midst of household chaos.

I find I can't write to music, except very, very occasionally, Bach, or choral chant. I absolutely CANNOT write with the TV on. But--I am a coffee-shop-writer. I have my favorites, my local Panera or sometimes Starbucks. There is that structure. You give yourself two or three or four hours to do nothing but write. No laundry, no phone calls, no toilets to be cleaned or dinner to be prepped. And there is something about that level of ambient noise and the bustle of people coming and going and often other people working, that somehow stimulates the writing center of my brain.

It's an odd contradiction, and I wonder if there's some sort of logical scientific explanation for it. Something to look into, and in the meantime I'll keep debating over the library . . . do you think I could sneak in a thermos of TEA in my laptop bag?


  1. My local library actually sells tea and coffee. . .maybe you could interest yours in the idea! $1 a cup -- and don't all libraries need a little extra income?

  2. Elizabeth, I was so disappointed when our new library opened a few years ago, sans coffee shop. I think they missed a great opportunity to make the library a more vibrant of the community.

  3. I must have tea, too! I drink two cups in the morning of strong Yorkshire Gold tea--I learned to love it when I live in Harrogate. Then I have to quit, alas, because caffeine in the pm keeps me up and I haven't been able to embrace any of the caffeine-free teas, except maybe a little mint tea on occasion.

    No music, no TV . . . shudder!

  4. Deb,
    I'm going to have to try coffee shop writing because the ambient sound thing sounds a lot like newsroom writing, which is second nature to me.

    The thing that has stopped me is dragging along my research materials. Also, in this small town I live in, I'm worried about A. running into people to chat with. B. looking like a pretentious writer.

    Whereas, if I were doing the same thing in the library, I wouldnt' worry about looking pretentious. So where the hell is THAT coming from?

    Anyway, I need coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon -- although I have considered those five hour energy drinks......

  5. I doubt your library would mind your bringing a thermos of tea. I used to write on my train commute to/from work. I don't have a commute anymore, but I've often thought of hopping the train just to recreate that atmosphere. I got so much done!

  6. It's fascinating, why it's lovely for me to write in a coffee shop where the bustle of the entire world is going on --but very very difficult for me to write with music on. If there are lyrics, forget it.

    The fabulous Allison Brennan, though, writes to music. She says its like a soundtrack. And I can kind of see that...

    Scummy tea, huh? :-) I wont tell you how I know, but I can assure you that a latte purchased on Thursday is still good on Friday. Just saying.

  7. The above was actually from me, Hank. Signed in under the wrong name.

    Just another "situation" we wouldn't have even understood ten years ago..

  8. Deb,no wonder we clicked so well the first time we met--I can't live without my tea. Pot when I first wake up (and real tea leaves, not bags to be taken to computer while I answer emails), second cup with breakfast to be taken to computer while I work.
    Then of course tea at teatime and sometimes a cup before bedtime.

    I've tried working in places with other people but it's hard for me. I like to say things out loud--speak my dialog and that gets you weird looks in Starbucks!

  9. Rhys, we are definitely soulmates. I discovered Tea Sacs, these great disposable paper bags for loose tea. So easy to make a pot or a cup!

  10. That was my first thought...slip the tea in your bag or purse. With all the new keep warn containers, I'd try it. I do it everywhere else, although usually it's iced tea in a container. I love my cold Boston's Mint tea.

    I must admit, I do love the cafe at the library where our NaNoWriMO meetings are held. Unfortunately it is about 20 or so miles away from my home.

    'Scummy tea, huh? :-) I wont tell you how I know, but I can assure you that a latte purchased on Thursday is still good on Friday.' You do not want to know my longest time for brewing iced tea. My twin sister shudders when Hubby brings up the subject. So I fill the teapot and then don't get around to it. LOL

    My favorite place to work at is the table at the dock on the Arthur Kill. Can't do that this time of year. I can work in a coffee shop and with TV if it has something I've seen before. Looking up at TV is good for the eyes, but if it's something I've never seen before, I either stop writing or miss what is happening ont the program. Can't do miss becasue I will start singing along with it.

  11. Tea. Must have tea. I won't even admit how many mugs I drink in a day. (think: chainsmoker) No music or movies please. My only distraction are bladder related. Mine (think: lots of tea) and my poor aged furry family member (canine) who needs frequent trips outside.

  12. I work at the local University library--they have a cafe where I can heat up water and make my own tea! I guess standards are lower for students--they only ask that you "be considerate" with food and drink.

    It took me a while to believe it--when I was in school, it was worth your life to bring food into the stacks.

  13. Distractable me faces a wall in a dark room with wifi turned off if I want to get anything useful on the page. Coffee shops work for editing, libraries for research, and tea at all of them for sanity. It all seems to be a work in progress. My next step may be velcro on the seat of both my pants and office chair!

  14. I WANT to be a tea drinker, really I do. Elaine Viets blogged about tea drinking last week on Lipstick Chronicles. It sounds so civilized..and it would give a logical explanation for the ridiculous number of teapots I own (ahem..not the really cool teapots that Hank, Julia and Rhys have.) That may be another blog.
    Couldn't have music or anything on for the first longhand draft, but when I'm rewriting a dvd in the background sometimes gives me inspiration. Don't ask what I, Claudius has to offer a traditional mystery writer, but there were certainly enough murders and poisonings in the series.