Monday, May 15, 2017

Cafe Diem

I have an unusual amount of free time right now. The Spring semester ended last week, and Summer term doesn't start for another week. I wrapped up my story for the Mata Hari anthology and even finished up the first round of edits. There aren't any friends or family visiting from out of town at the moment. Where I normally only have a few hours a night to work on my writing, I've now got full days.

It's great, and I'm getting things done. But I've definitely been going a little stir crazy. 

While I love spending time with my cats and dog, and working from home is a great option, considering how anxious I get in even the most benign social situations, even I can only stay at the house so long. By late last week, I needed to get out.

Though I wanted to get out of the house, I didn't want to give up my working time. So, I decided to camp out at a coffee shop for a few hours--a place with lots of windows, an outside seating option, and a staff that wouldn't be concerned about a patron claiming a table for an undetermined length of time, since so much of the traffic is drive through or carry out.

Not pictured: The guy that didn't understand that my headphones meant I was not interested in a conversation.

There are all manner of sneering stereotypes about people that write in cafes. It's not something I've done much of, myself. It's always struck me as a little performative, and my imposter syndrome is generally unwilling to let me perform the role of writer in public--at least, outside of times when I've been invited to. And being a woman in a public place comes with the burden of being assumed to be available for chit chat. Even if you're clearly working on something. And have headphones in. 

But I wanted a change of pace. Not just to look at something other than my house's walls, but also to shake loose some of the blocks I've had. The last few problems that I'm trying to patch up in Project 2016 have proven to be somewhat difficult to untangle. I'd hoped that changing my setting might shake things up enough to reveal new avenues.

And it did help a bit. I've been able to work out some of the major issues, and I have the beginnings of new solutions for most of the rest. I managed a blank-page rewrite of the center of a chapter that's been giving me trouble since the beginning, and now the sequence of events makes more sense. I've been able to trim some fat from a few chapters so that I can add in more important bits of story. I visited the cafe twice last week, and did some good work both times.

But I'm not sure I want to make a habit, however temporary, of cafe writing.

I can see the appeal, in some ways. There is something about a cafe setting that sharpens the brain (or at least my brain). And if you get stuck, there are goodies--never underestimate the power of goodies. If you're the type that gets energized by being around other people, it's a great workspace.

All that said, it doesn't really work for me. I mean, I'm all about tasty baked goods and coffee, but there are some issues. First and most obvious is the expense. Cafe coffee ain't cheap. And, if you're like me, you feel like an asshole sitting somewhere for hours after your coffee and croissant have been consumed so you buy another coffee and croissant.

And then there's the music. I went to a chain cafe, so I expected that I'd hear some pretty generic tunes--whispery-voiced indie singers and soft guitar strumming. I can work through most music, so I thought I'd be fine. The days that I went to the cafe, though, the music of the day was apparently "whales screaming."

Not exactly conducive to work. I guess some people find it relaxing?

And then there are the people. I'm sure others' mileage varies on this, but I work best when I'm allowed to do my own thing without interruptions. For most of my stay at the coffee shop, I was able to do this reasonably well. But now and then, someone tap at my shoulders to ask about the other chair at my table (and then to put it back). And once, someone asked me to move (my body, my laptop, my laptop bag, my coffee and my croissant) to another table. Worst was the man who decided that I must have come out in public to be talked to by a stranger (pro tip: if someone has headphones on, they're not interested in talking--if they're not in danger, leave them alone).

It was a good experiment. I'm glad I did it. But I don't expect that cafe writing is going to somehow become my thing.

Are any of you cafe writers? If you're not, what do you do when you want to write somewhere other than your usual office or writing nook?

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