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!