I like my books like I like my coffee
No, I'm sorry, I know the next line ought to be something on the lines of "Hot and steamy" or "Dark but sweet" or some other hilarious description, but the honest next line is "Not made by me" because I make truly terrible coffee.
To be fair, most of the books I enjoy are indeed by people other than myself.
And by "most" I mean "all of them" because I really cannot read my own fiction for fun.
It feels too much like work.
But if I were talking about a book written by myself, then the next line could quite easily have been "Made in a coffee shop" because that's where I do a lot of writing these days.
If you read my last blog - you poor long-suffering soul - you might remember the long list of Things Writers Must Not Do as determined by the Internet.
One of those things was "Write in a coffee shop."
The thread I got this from was one of the ubiquitous "do you do this thing" threads that pop up all over Twitter. It was slightly unusual, though, in that for once the writer didn't seem to have a "correct" answer that they wanted people to give: it seemed to be a matter of genuine curiosity.
So, having a book to write and far too little time to write it in, I naturally wandered over to take a look.
For the most part it was a perfectly pleasant conversation. Some people said they did write in coffee shops, others said they didn't, and everything was pretty civil and enjoyable.
One poster, though, made it clear that in his opinion the only reason anybody would go to a coffee shop to write was "to be seen writing." An opinion that seemed pretty rude, given how many people had already commented to say that they did exactly that, often giving their reasons for doing so at the same time.
I realise not everyone reading this will necessarily be a writer, but I can assume you all read, in one way or another, so to put it into perspective: a week or so before this happened someone had posted, also on Twitter, his thoughts on people who brought books to bars.
Those thoughts were, roughly, that they were doing it "to be seen reading."
I can't remember who this person was: it was somebody famous, but I am very bad at famous people, mostly because I don't care. Anyway, the main point of all this is that his tweet upset a lot of people, all of whom enjoyed reading books in bars, and many of whom took the time to give their reasons for doing so.
None of those reasons were "to be seen reading."
If you've ever taken a book to a bar, or if the thought of sitting in a pleasant atmosphere, with a book and a drink of some sort appeals to you at all, or if you have the slightest ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes for a moment and just imagine liking that sort of thing, then you probably have some idea of how rude and dismissive Mr Famous Person's tweet actually was.
The non-famous twitterer's tweet was like that too.
I could dwell upon his rudeness.
I could describe the prank he claimed to play on people when he saw them "writing to be seen" and point out all the ways that it wouldn't actually work.
I could talk about the irony* of showing off in public by claiming other people are showing off in public. Or contemplate the probable ego of someone who just assumes everyone else is only doing things for effect.
I could talk about his shoddy understanding of "metaphor" and the probability of anyone ever wanting to read his poems after reading something like that. But I'm not going to do that. I mean, that would be rude.
So no, I won't be doing any of that.
But there were an awful lot of people in that thread who did like to work in coffee shops. And there have been times when I have walked into my own coffee shop of choice and felt compelled to bellow, in my best Brian Blessed voice: "Is there anyone in here who is not working on a novel?" So what I am going to do instead is give a list - a very brief, partial list - of reasons why you might, after all, want to go to a coffee shop to write.
It’s a coffee shop Approximately forty percent of all writers are powered by coffee. Another forty percent run on tea, and most of the other twenty percent have developed a worrying dependency on some form of confectionary. Setting up camp at the source of all these things is simply more efficient.
Your house might be too noisy. Maybe it’s full of kids, maybe you have have housemates who insist on playing their music at maximum volume AT ALL TIMES, maybe you just live right next door to the world’s biggest DIY enthusiast: if the noise keeps breaking your concentration, you might be better off finding somewhere else to write.
Or maybe your house is too quiet. If there’s one thing more distracting than constant noise, it’s a persistent discomfiting silence. If your house is as still and quiet as the tomb, you may be happier writing somewhere with the low persistent hum of a dozen conversations.
Or perhaps you’re just too popular. A problem I have never had. In all seriousness, if people keep calling, emailing, and knocking on your door, you’ll probably get a lot more done if you turn off your phone, don a cunning disguise, and sneak off to write in glorious obscurity. Just you, your laptop, and your hot beverage of choice. Just stay away from the free WiFi.
Sometimes you just need an enforcer. If you have trouble making yourself write, you might have more luck if you can find a writer friend in a similar situation. Arrange a meet-up once a week, grill each other mercilessly on what you’ve achieved since last you spoke, then spend a couple of hours scribbling frantically, aware that if you dare to lift your head from your work for even a minute it will be to meet the shamed eyes of your friend who was just doing the exact same thing. Under this system you could both finally complete the work that you had been ignoring. Or you could spend two hours distracting each other horribly while consuming far too much caffeine and sugary cake. My advice isn't always brilliant, you know.
If you don't need an enforcer then maybe you want a collaborator. If you’re working with another author you might be happy meeting up at one house or another, or you might prefer to work over Zoom, or by phone, or text, or some other amazing system I’m too out of touch to have even heard of. Or you could just meet up at a coffee shop. It’s not the only choice, but it’s definitely a choice. And it has cake.
Sometimes you just have too much to do. Of course you could write. That’s definitely something you could do. But first you should probably finish the washing up. And hang out the laundry. And clean out the fridge, clean out the gutters, reorganise your sock drawer, plan all your meals for the next month, and maybe take up a new hobby. Like fire poi. The point is that writers can be horrible procrastinators. If you keep finding things you need to do before you write, your best plan might be to sneak off somewhere where the only distractions are the slightly disturbing latte art, and the siren song of the baked goods display. As an added incentive, the cakes in these places are often stupidly expensive, so you’ll need to get back work on your book so you can publish a bestseller** and be able to afford your new muffin habit.
Maybe you’re on your lunch break. If your workplace somehow isn’t surrounded by majestic rolling hills and beautiful scenery, and is mysteriously not right next door to a fascinating, ever-changing museum filled with a constant carousel of natural and fabricated wonders, then you may find yourself torn between hanging awkwardly around the office listening to your neighbour drone on about their grandchildren*** or taking refuge behind your writing in the nearest coffee shop. This one doesn’t apply to full-time authors of course. Or people who like their coworkers.
Maybe you have nothing better to do. Sometimes you just end up stuck somewhere. Sometimes work finishes at five, but you can't go home because you have a yoga class at six. Sometimes your bus home gets cancelled, and the next one won’t come for forty five minutes. Sometimes, just to pull an example out of thin air, you have to get up at stupid o’clock in the morning and catch two buses because your eldest daughter has a ballet class in the middle of the city and now you’re stuck here for two and a half hours before you can get a lift back to town. Whatever the reason, if you’ve got a long wait ahead of you, you might as well spend it somewhere warm and comfortable, with a drink at your elbow, squashing another thousand words into your magnum opus.
Perhaps you just want to. Perhaps you just like coffee shops. Coffee shops are great. They have coffee. They have cakes. They sometimes have free WiFi and places to charge your phone, or displays of local art on the walls. Why shouldn’t you want to write there? And why should you care what anybody else thinks about where you choose to write? It’s got nothing to do with anyone but you.
*Irony is defined as: "The expression of one's meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect." Ironically, the word itself is absolutely never correctly used. ** Hah! Irony strikes again! ***If this sounds rude please recollect that I have children, and that those children are themselves grandchildren. I know exactly how boring they can be.