Home » Writing Advice » Coffeehouse Escape

Coffeehouse Escape

(c) hotblack

(c) hotblack

Sometimes the four walls of my house feel like they are closing in on me.  Claustrophobia and panic sets in by the boredom of familiarity.  I sit at my desk, hands to keyboard and words don’t come.  The words are stifled, oppressed by my environment.

I need to escape.

I pack my laptop into a bag that always carries a pen and notebook.  My car rumbles to life as I turn the key, put the machine in drive, and floor it down the street towards Nirvana.

Tucked along a row of quaint and kitschy shops sits my local coffee shop.  A writer’s retreat.

The familiar jingle of the little brass bell dings as the door opens.  Immediately my face is enveloped with the dark, pungent smell of roasted coffee.  The air is full of caffeine.  I am energized.  I am ready to write.

Most writers that I have connected with need some sort of stimulation (if you don’t, consider yourself lucky-and rare).  Sitting at the same desk, in the same room, in the same house day in and day out, hours on end can be a murderer for any kind of creativity.  Writers have senses that need to be excited, challenged, invoked, and awakened.  Writing retreats are some of the best options to influence productivity and if you can afford a full multi-day retreat to another location – do it (check out other TSM posts about the benefits of writing retreats: “The Enlightenment of Escape” Part 1 and Part 2).  But who can afford to take a destination / multi-day writing retreat on a whim?

Coffee shops are a fabulous little mini-retreat for writers when they are feeling stagnant in their regular writing habitat.  A change of scenery is wake-up call to sleeping senses and spurs the creative juices to flow.  Not only can this change in environment induce a writing fervor, there are usually a vast assortment of delicious pastries on site along with an endless supply of coffee, espresso, tea, hot cocoa!  Ahh, that luscious caffeine that keeps computer screen weary eyes open.

Another benefit to coffee shops is that most are within driving or walking distance.  It can be easy to carve an hour or two out of your day to escape to one.

However, there is one very teensy-weensy downside to coffee shops: other people.  Some locations can be so popular that it is sometimes hard to find a seat (hint: visit during non-peak hours).  And the shop could be slightly noisy.  This may be distracting to the writing process if you have an agenda to be 100% focused (hint: headphones and music).  But all of this can be easily overcome if you are determined.  Don’t allow other people be a deterrent from going to a coffee shop.

If you find yourself at a coffee shop during a particularly loud and busy time, see this time as an opportunity to people spy… er… I mean watch!

Think of this as field research. People watching is a fantastic tactic, which can be used to influence character development.  You can quietly and inconspicuously observe someone and their habits, their mannerism, and turn those observations into characters or enhance your existing characters.  You can even eavesdrop on a particularly interesting conversation to help with dialog.  Though you should probably not write the conversation verbatim–and don’t get caught.  That could be pretty embarrassing to explain what you are doing.

If you are lucky enough to arrive at your local coffee shop and it is complete silence, then my friend, you have struck gold!  You will have pure unadulterated quiet time to write in a completely invigorating, caffeine-fueled environment.

New scenery, new perspective, new motivation = more creative writing.

And for you introverts who don’t even like making eye contact with another human being, have no fear!  99.9% of the time no one will bother you.  In all my years of writing at coffee shops, I have only had one person bother me and they were just asking if I had an extra napkin (for those of you who are wondering, yes I was nice and gave them my last one.  They did spill piping hot coffee on their lap… I am not that cold hearted to watch them scream in burning agony.)

Keep in mind that coffee shops are not the only mini-retreat that you can take.  There are probably a billion places you can quickly escape to for almost nothing!  Check out your local library, a picnic table at the park, local bookshop, or rent a boat to sit on a lake.  The point is if you are feeling suffocated in your regular writing habitat, then it is time to get out and go stare at walls in some other location.  A change in scenery makes all the difference, the caffeine just tends to add that extra bit of help!


14 thoughts on “Coffeehouse Escape

  1. I tend to get stuck in a rut – writing in the same place – every. single. day. Ugh. It’s no wonder that your post shot a little dose of adrenaline in me, and it has nothing to do with the prospect of caffeine – in this case, at least.

    You know, I am intoxicated by the smell of freshly roasted coffee. So much so, that I will go inside and wait in line to get coffee instead of getting the teasing waft of delicious yumminess through the drive-thru window. Alas, I digress – this is about writing, not coffee. Dobby must punish himself.

    I think I am going to start a circulation of places to visit and write – coffee shop, bookstore, beach, park bench, a train ride – ahhh, the possibilities are really endless. Thanks for reminding me Amanda! I think we should petition for a quiet period in the local coffee shop – you know, 9am to 11am – no talking, no whispering – just the whir of espresso machine steaming milk and coffee bean grinder diffusing those wonderful aromas. It’s not asking too much, is it? 🙂

    Thanks for the reminder, Amanda, that there are so many different ways and places to engage with our coveted words 😉

    • I love writing on trains.

      Speaking of scents: One of the reasons I love winter is because I think the smell of burning wood is really inspiring. There’s something sweet about it — something that makes me want to write. But there’s something special about that coffee shop smell, too.

    • You are so welcome!! I am glad to see I am not the only one who goes into the coffee shop for the smell as opposed to hitting the drive-thru! I love the train idea (like Michelle). That is something I have always wanted to do. I would have loved to win an Amtrak Residency.

      And I like your suggestion on “quiet time” at the coffee shops. I think you could get your local ones to adopt that. I may try that at mine!

  2. During the spring/summer, I really like to sit next to the river and write. I’ve written a few poems that way.

  3. I just need to convince Spouse of the need for a laptop that isn’t 8 years old, doesn’t way 30 pounds, and has a J key, then I’m heading right off to the local coffee shop!

  4. I alternate between a new cafe next door – thank GOD for small mercies 😉 – and my library! I used to write in the first floor, but have come to realize that the second floor offers more light and solitude (minus this one woman who refuses to silence her I-Pad game…the ‘plop plop’ drove me up the wall 😛 )


    Thank you ❤


  5. Coffee shops are a favorite of mine, but so is the library. Our local Denny’s allows people to come and use their laptops during non-peak times. There are five or six regular night owls who work there.

    I’d love to run a cafe for web workers and writers. How fun would that be?

  6. Cafe’s don’t work for me because 1) I’m cheap, like really, really cheap, and if I’m in a place where I can spend money, I feel like I should since they’re providing the space. Plus my body doesn’t need the extra ingestion of pastries (no matter how much my body *thinks* it needs those pastries); 2) I don’t drink coffee at all or tea very often; and 3) I like being as alone as possible when I write. So when the weather cooperates, I prefer a park bench or–and Amanda you should appreciate this–a cemetery. Nobody goes to cemeteries, so they’re quiet and peaceful and, I find, soothing and contemplative. People see you sitting in a cemetery, and they leave you alone. When I was young, I used to write in bars sometimes, and I actually found that productive, but my wallet, my liver, and the demands of small children will not tolerate that as a writing place.

    • Writing in a bar? I bet you had interesting “people watching” experiences. Sorry to hear that over time it didn’t work out. I guess the little ones wouldn’t like going in there too much. Bars kind of smell funny and the floors are sometimes sticky.

      Cemeteries are my favorite places to write and I cannot believe I left them off the list! They are not on my mind because the melting snow in the NE US has caused the ground to become soggy. Dead people climb out of the ground better when it is softer. I don’t like being taken by surprise by dead people while writing.

      You are right, cemeteries are a quiet and soothing places to write. The cold grave stones and stillness in the air has a great calming effect, allowing me to focus wholly on a writing session. And pretty much every living human being avoids you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s