Three years ago, I imposed a question on the popular social media site, Reddit. What is the appeal of a coffee shop?
For context, I posted this on the screenwriting sub-reddit where lots of aspiring and professional screenwriters come for a chat about writing resources, feedback on their work, advice and general questions about the industry. The question I threw in was in relation to why writers often decide to write in a coffee shop. At the time I had never given it a try and at best, the only public establishment I had written in was a library which isn’t really a fair comparison on account of the hush, hush enforcement.
It’s hard not to conjure up the thought of a conventional hipster, barefoot, wearing a pair of thick empty frameless glasses and a beanie on his head at the peak of summer, beard down to his bollocks, sitting on his MacBook, sipping a soy latte. Ah, who am I to judge? I love me a soy latte. But at least this guy’s trying his best to write that next big thing and for some reason chose to do it in this popular public establishment.
You can follow the link for the complete discussion and accreditation but here is a breakdown of what I discovered…
In this day and age, you have to travel pretty far and wide to avoid the internet and let’s be honest with ourselves, it might as well be the number 1 source of all global procrastination. Say for a minute you don’t have your phone on you but just a laptop. If that laptop’s only hope of reaching the glorious Elysium fields of the internet is via a decent wi-fi connection, then try and pick a café that doesn’t provide one. If you are prone to reaching for that monolithic device in your pocket or clicking on those social media shortcuts lingering around your search bar, avoid the Internet altogether. That one is pretty simple to understand, which kind of seeps into the next point.
SELF CONTROL APP
If you have little to no will power when it comes to deviating from the task at hand, there’s an app for that! For Apple users there is an open source application which will allow you to tailor a suspension of internet functions. For a limited time of your choosing, you can have the app prevent you from using anything on your internet fuelled device that might harm your efficiency. If you are hard pressed to find a café a million miles from modern civilisation, maybe this is just the ticket.
HARNESS THE NOISE
There is a truly fascinating study which in summary suggests that our brain is capable of processing distracting sounds, channelling the energy into creativity. Or at least that is my thin paraphrasing of the concept. When I was a wee lad, I often watched the old man manage to read a book in a room full of people talking with the television on full blast and seemingly ignore everything but the page. I suppose reading is a little different from writing in that respect but it is similar. I can’t make the assumption that this works on everyone but it is an interesting notion. YouTube offers an oddly varied range of background coffee shop ambient videos, that you can listen to on whatever platform supports it. So, you don’t even have to leave the safety of your own home to experience the pandemonium of chatter, clanging and steam wands whistling. Might be worth trialling it this way first before committing to braving the sunlight.
LESSER OF TWO EVILS
Distractions are everywhere but you may find that there are more distractions at home than at a coffee shop. No matter how similar distractions may be in form, whether it’s sight, sound, smell or touch or anything that tweaks the senses, there is always a more personal bond with home distractions that can appear absent in a public place. If a relative is present at home, you could easily engage in conversation with them but if an espresso enthusiast speaks at a café you don’t even need to acknowledge their existence. It’s not rude, you’re a stranger to them! Plus, there are some things you can get away with at home that might be frowned upon out in the open. Don’t think I need to mention what that might be. Think about it as preventative treatment.
Nobody is going to scrutinise you for being nosey or eavesdropping on conversations people are having around you. If what they are discussing is private, they shouldn’t have chosen to conduct their business in a place full of members of the public. People are a great source of inspiration and you might be amazed what observing them will spur on creatively. Got a touch of the ol’ writers block? Watch and listen.
This one is particularly relevant to aspiring screenwriters living in Los Angeles but I guess it could apply to anyone anywhere, given the right circumstances. If you’re watching people, people are likely watching you and if you’re there sitting on your laptop going ham on that keyboard, you’ll likely turn a few heads. I live in the outskirts of London so this is completely out of my personal experience but the theory is sound. Hollywood is filled with creatives in the Film and TV industry and although the obvious sight of you working on your project isn’t uncommon, there is great opportunity to network and perhaps one day you’ll connect with the right person who’ll offer you that big break.
Lastly, if you like coffee and writing, a café is probably the place to be. There is nothing quite like a professionally crafted mug of artisan coffee brought over to your table with a smile. It sure beats instant made with water from a limescale-ridden kettle of eight years.
Why do you write in a coffee shop? Leave a comment and let’s find out.