In Defense of Coffee Shop Writers

This morning, I am sitting here in the Jolt’n Bolt Coffee and Tea House.  My laptop is hooked up to the free Wi-Fi and I am online working on my WIP short story.  Ah, living the cliché!

I realize that what I’m doing is the premise of a thousand cynical jokes about writers writing in public.  The point of writing in public is to be seen writing, right?  So that some non-writer will notice us and maybe — please please pleeeease — ask us what we’re writing!?

Well, let me tell you about Jolt’n Bolt early on a Saturday morning.  A few people come in, grab a coffee, and head right back out.  There weren’t more than a couple people in here at a time until around 0830.  The only attention I’ve gotten was from the fine employees behind the counter and one customer’s curious beagle.

This is cool with me, because I don’t write in public to be seen by the public, and I resent (just a lil bit) the amateur psychoanalysis behind the presumption that I am here to engage in writing-as-conversation-starter.  And, I bet I’m not the only writer who feels this way, so let me kick this dismissive stereotype in the shins for a moment.

Rock and a Hard Place

I like to occasionally get out of my apartment to write* for the same reason non-writers like to occasionally get out of their homes to do the things they enjoy doing: for the change of scenery and the energy it stirs up.

After all, isn’t the Recluse Writer also a stereotype, and an equally demeaning one?

Writers seem stuck in the same “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” Catch-22 that informs the Virgin-Whore dualism afflicting women.  If we stay cooped up at home writing, we’re anti-social prudes.  If we write in public, we’re attention-sluts.

It’s a toggle with two settings: Emily Dickinson or Mae West.**

Stirring Up The Writing Juices

As an example of how coming out to the Jolt’n Bolt stirs up the writing juice, the walk over here at 6:30 a.m. in March was — to put it lightly — cold enough to precisely locate each and every gap my clothing.  I did not realize my t-shirt collar was so loose!

That’ll wake you up more than just rolling out of bed and pouring yourself a cup of Folgers Instant.

What else?  Watching the city slowly wake up outside the coffee shop window.  Having an egg sandwich I never would have made for myself if I had stayed home, and the smell of many more foods and drinks than I would in my own kitchen. Knowing that Sinclair Lewis lived just a few blocks away.

Hell, I might just swing by there to pay my respects before heading home.

Plus, the XM here is tuned to a station I never would have selected myself. There have been tunes I never heard, others I listen to now and then, and it has also reminded me of two songs I liked but had completely forgotten about: “Remember I Love You” by Firefall, and “Turn Your Love Around” by George Benson.

All of these things serve to fire up new neural pathways or re-ignite dormant ones.

Careful What U Assume

I never really bought into the old “make an ass out of u and me” joke.***  How does one person’s unfounded assumption make another person an ass?

Anyway… my point is this: isn’t it rather ironically narcissistic of some non-writers to assume that writers hauling our laptops out in public is really all about them?

Maybe there are some players faux writers out there who are using the writing-in-public gig as a way to hook up, but let me assure all the non-writers reading this that the last thing a true writer wants when in the middle of intercourse with our Muse is for you to, umm … interruptus.

Writers write in public for what the experience brings to our attention from the outside world, not necessarily to bring ourselves to the outside world’s attention. We have agents, marketers, blogs, and Twitter feeds for that.

And, now (around 1000 hours) the shop is starting to fill up.  More opportunities to start conversations.

Time to pack it up and head out.


*And to occasionally split an infinitive.

** Yes, she was also a writer.

*** I first heard this joke on the Benny Hill Show, but I assume it was already … oops!

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  1. Thanks for allowing me to peek into your morning w/o having to shiver outside your window. You make me smile and giggle.

  2. This is the first I’ve heard that laptop users go to the coffee shop for a quick pick-up, hold the caffeine. When I see someone on a laptop I assume they are working on something work-related or school-related – a ‘need to get this done’ sort of thing. Like in don’t bother me.

    I like to write in coffee shops, but I pull out a notebook (the kind made out of trees) and pen. Sometimes the waiters will ask if I’m a teacher and I laugh. They see me crossing things out, writing in the margins and drawing arrows all over the page and assume I’m grading papers. Maybe I should add a big red C+ across the top of the page for effect. That’s how I’d grade my writing to date.

    Interesting article. I enjoyed it. Best of luck with your writing.

  3. Entertaining read! So Mae West was a writer? I didn’t know that.

    I’ve been asked, when I’m writing using the ol’ laptop, if I’m doing homework. I just smile and say, “sort of.”

    But yeah, we go to coffee shops to get inspiration, see people, and have a good cup of coffee–what no writer should live without!

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