COFFEEHOUSE TIME | The Art of Showing Up

I've written many a blog post in coffeehouse time
I’ve written many a blog post in coffeehouse time too.

A few weeks ago, Ramona DeFelice Long, fearless leader of the How Many Pages Did You Write Today? Facebook group asked us when we write best. In an ideal world, I’d awaken when I’m well-rested (wouldn’t that be fabulous?), and with coffee in hand, write through the morning when my brain’s fresh and my inner critic is still asleep.

Alas, my life isn’t ideal for writing at the moment. Too much day-job. I’m working on this–believe you me I am!–but for now I have to employ tricks to make time for fiction. One of my favorite tricks is the coffeehouse. Thinking about Ramona’s question, I realized that I have a special time called “coffeehouse time.” Actual clock time doesn’t matter. Settling myself at a coffeehouse automatically transitions my brain into writing mode.

There have been many coffeehouses over the years. Sometimes I sit outside.
There have been many coffeehouses over the years. Sometimes I sit outside.

It’s equivalent to falling asleep as soon as I settle into an airplane seat. After oodles of travel, I’ve trained my brain to knock off.

Sometimes the décor could use a little help.
Sometimes the décor could use a little help.

Same thing with coffeehouses, except I’ve trained my brain to fiction on. It’s basically the art of showing up. These days I’m doing my best to show up for my work-in-progress called GREY MAN. I feel sorry for it because between the day-job, my aged mom, life in general, and debut novel tasks, I’ve been neglecting it.

Here’s an example of coffeehouse time in action: It’s the end of the day, and all I want to do is chillax in front of the telly, maybe watch an episode of “Dexter.” After that, the novel I’m currently reading beckons. There’s nothing wrong with going to bed at eight to read for two hours, is there? Naaah…And that’s how it goes. Maybe I’m fundamentally unfocussed or distractible or lazy or undisciplined, but at times like that there’s no way I’m going to write if I stay at home. Once I force myself out the door, into the car and then into a coffeehouse, fancy that, I’m fine. I may need to stare out the window for a bit, but that’s OK. I’ve shown up.

Sometimes there's a shop dog. (This is Kodi.)
Sometimes there’s a shop dog. (This is Kodi.)

That’s coffeehouse time. It works for me. And we do whatever works to get our writing in, don’t we?

Sometimes I resort to red wine.
Sometimes I resort to red wine.

Any time’s a good time to write when I’m in a coffeehouse. No ideal world necessary!

Do “Real” Writers Write in Cafes?

grandcentral1.jpgI’ve received many a comment from friends about the time I spend in cafes. This blog is practically a tour of Portland’s coffee scene. I cop to it: Ever since my student days at Berkeley, I’ve loved a good coffee house. In fact, I started the habit back in high school when I was into concocting moody, hormone-laden poetry.

I had occasion to ponder the titular question because this week I re-discovered a cafe that could replace Kodi’s (this post): Grand Central Bakery, a local spot that’s been around forever, but that I’ve ignored for over a decade. I remembered strolling there on Sunday mornings with my then-boyfriend; I remembered it as over-crowded and small. I associated it with a particular era in my life, but now I’m glad to say that they rehabbed the space: expanded into a southern-exposed space. Very good for loitering.

grandcentral2.jpgI even made a new friend (Liz, if you’re reading this!). We bonded over our mutually cool eyewear and talked about collaging. AND I wrote four decent first-draft pages.

But, back to the question: Do “real” writers write in cafes? At a writers conference awhile back a novelist-instructor made a disparaging comment to the tune of NO. As if coffee houses only attracted dilettantes and amateurs and poseurs. However, I say that any trick that helps you get words on the page is legitimate.

What seems impossible for one writer is another’s perfect modus operandi. For example, Stephen King blasts heavy metal music. Susan Wiggs writes in long-hand. Bob Mayer writes in collaboration with Jennifer Crucie. Another novelist (can’t remember who, unfortunately) wrote his first novel on the commuter train to and from work. And how many Mom-novelists have you read about who get up at 5:00 a.m. or who write in bitty increments throughout the day as they get the chance?

grandcentral3.jpgAll those methods seem impossible to me, but sit me down in a coffee house where I can woolgather while people-watching and somehow my synapses start firing. Besides, everyone knows that J.K. Rowling wrote her first Harry Potter in a coffee house. And look how that turned out!