You know that old saying, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone?”
During our 2020 COVID pandemic lockdown, the thing I missed most from my “normal” life was … no, not dining in restaurants, not outdoor barbecues, not shopping centers (yuck), not bars and certainly not gyms (yuck again).
In those late-spring 2020 days, before our state government or our New England weather permitted outdoor dining, the thing I missed most was sitting in a coffee shop or café. I know. In light of all our other deaths and losses, this was a very small complaint, right?
Still, early in our COVID days, I knitted a pair of fingerless gloves and I stitched up a double-layered mask--both specifically intended for cold-weather patio visits when I realized just how much I had treasured my cup of dark roast and a set of strangers’, ambient chatter that somehow helps me to focus.
I only go coffee-ing about once or twice per week-just enough to look around and see that, just like me, other folks are at their tables, working on their creative projects.
However, for writers, not all cafés are created equal.
New in town? New at writing? Or you just want a place to go, a place to put some psychic distance between your day job and home?
5 Tips for Writing in a Café or a Coffee Shop
- Music and masks: Unless you write well amid noise, if the music is too loud or piped right onto the outdoor patio, it will drive you to distraction, not creativity. Here’s a tip: Never, ever leave home without a set of noise-blocking ear plugs. I keep mine in my wallet. Or headphones. If you need music or white noise while you write, it should be your chosen genre and volume. Oh, and as for those protective face masks? I won’t write on that here, except to suggest that you read the trending health-news on our latest COVID risks.
- Layout and Tables: At my local coffee haunt, they have two large tables named “The Coffice (get it?).” They also have excellent COVID infection-control protocols in place. At one of those ‘coffice’ tables, there’s enough room to spread out your journal, drafts, pens and laptop. I love it there. Also, check if your potential café tables are crushed too closely together (for infection control and writing reasons). Finally, choose a table situated as far away from the counter queue as possible.
- Good WiFi Connection: This will depend on your current writing project. If you’re drafting or editing, you may want to be cut off from all digital distractions, including the internet. But sometimes, even when you’re in the writing ‘flow,’ you may need to quickly check some fact or a random detail. Bottom line: It’s better to have WiFi than to wish you had.
- General Café Ambiance and ‘Fit:’ One writer’s haven is another writer’s hell. It could be as literary or mythical as Simone de Beauvoir’s famous Café de Flore. Or, I once had a writing student who exclusively wrote in her neighborhood fast-food chain restaurant (hint: this chain has yellow arches). So if you’re starting out, prepare to do a little Goldilocks-styledcafé hopping until you find one that feels just right for you and your writing.
- Find Ways to Save Money: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for authors and writers is approximately $67,000 per year. Now wait. Before you wonder why your last memoir or poetry chapbook or novel didn’t yield that much income, the Bureau conflates non-creative (copywriting, bloggers, marketers et al) and creative writers (fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, play and other writers).
More realistically, in 2018, The Authors Guild led a study or survey of 5,067 professional writers in the United States. From their book sales alone-not counting speaking fees, teaching or other income-the study’s participating authors made an average of $3,100 a year.
So as we work day jobs and side hustles, we need to justify all out-of-home expenditures and, when it comes to cafes, that means balancing ambiance with value. Look for a coffee shop that offers frequent-buyer or loyalty discounts or freebies. Plus, before your birthday comes around, drop some heavy hints about a gift card. More than a hot beverage, what that gift-card giver is really granting you is the ultimate gift-a place and a space for your writing.