A few weeks ago one of my close friends (also a writer) and I sat down to have one of our last writing sessions at our favourite coffee shop. It wasn’t closing, not for permanent, but instead it was going under renovations for the entire month of November. The month where I run write-ins for my regional chapter of National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo).
We were sitting at our favourite table, which probably won’t be there when the renovations are done and it had me thinking. Him and I met at that coffee shop while we were both writing. We had our specific tables, which were different from the table we current sat at. He said he had seen me a few times and wanted to ask if I was also a writer and it wasn’t until him and his friend had come in to have coffee, not write, that my phone went off and everyone heard my Teen Wolf ringtone. Since the three of us were fans of the TV show, that was what made us start talking and we have been friends since.
Him and I met while writing at a coffee shop. We wouldn’t have met if either of us could focus at home and thus, get our writing done at home, so I asked him why he felt he could only write at the coffee shop and not at home. We had the usual answers to this: distractions at home aren’t there at the coffee shop. I had some valid points as well: cafe wifi is generally terrible so you’re not able to stream Netflix and normally, there aren’t outlets so you can’t just plug in and play video games when you need to conserve battery power for writing.
I even Googled this and found that other writers also had the same question: what is it about coffee shops that gets us writing? In an age where there are apps and websites to stimulate the ambience of coffee shops and yet, using them, we still cannot focus at home.
My best explanation is the story of how (and why) I began writing at coffee shops.
When I was 11 years old, I had just started middle school and was big into both journaling and writing. I needed to get out of the house for awhile because my mother was drunk, having a row with her mother (my grandmother – we lived down the hall from each other in the same apartment building) and I needed to get out. I didn’t have many friends back in middle school so it wasn’t like I could call someone up and go spend the night at their place. The library was closed and so I went to the only place that was open: the cafe across the street from the block my apartment and the library were on.
I had a notebook – one of those spiral bound Hilroy notebooks that you can get at any pharmacy (I preferred the black or the blue covers but frequently was stuck with the red or the green) – and a pen, and likely my 5$ allowance since I was at the coffee shop and had bought something to drink. I picked a table that felt ‘safe’ to me and then sat down with my notebook and pen. I don’t remember what I was writing but I know I stayed for hours and that was when I figured out that the coffee shop stayed open 24 hours.
For years this was my go-to place. I found it to be the most relaxing and safe home away from home that I could have ever found. When I couldn’t go to the library and write, I came to the coffee shop and this was back before anyone did anything besides drink coffee and smoke at coffee shops.
I was the first in my community to start showing up at coffee shops with my laptop, and then netbooks were a thing so I brought one of those. Then I graduated to the iPad 1st Generation with a Bluetooth keyboard case. Since then I’ve been primarily writing on some form of technology while saving notebook writing for either journaling or times when I wasn’t doing a huge project on a timeline (like Nanowrimo).
So, what I can take away from that history is that writing at a cafe providing me a distraction from things at home as well as giving me an inspiring place to write. More often than not, we had some colourful characters coming into the coffee shop and I would be inspired by them, either writing about the things I overheard and saw at the coffee shop all the way to being inspired to write short stories based upon the people I had met over the years.
I feel like writers naturally gravitate towards cafes (and sometimes restaurants or pubs) because it’s something we grew up reading about or seeing in movies: authors spending time in cafes and pubs, penning their best-selling novel. I can tell you that it was Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” which inspired my trips across Ontario during my early 20’s and also convinced me to take the road trip I did back in September: ten days from Ontario to New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI (Prince Edward Island) and back home to Ontario, in the car. On the road. It was beautiful.
Writers inspire other writers and sometimes we don’t even notice it. The writers who have inspired us either to become interested in (or to write in) in a specific genre or they have given us a tip off to a good writing location – those are great authors. They’ve shared their ‘secret’ so that we, too, can be inspired. When I’m struggling to write, sometimes I change venues completely (Starbucks or Second Cup instead of a Tim Hortons, maybe even one of the little trendy coffee shops downtown) and other times I have returned to the place that the books live – the library – to write.
I’ve written outside at the park; in the bathroom on the toilet (I was inspired, okay) and I’ve written on the beach of Port Dover, Ontario with Lake Erie touching my feet. Each place inspired something different. At home though? I’m not inspired at all. Maybe it’s because of my set up at home and there isn’t much room for me to do a complete renovation of my writing space, otherwise I might have ended up with a rustic, Pinterest-esque writing space.
So you, dear writers, what draws you to write where you do? For those few who can’t seem to be inspired to write at a cafe or anywhere but home, why is that? I’m curious, let me know in the comments below.