The Coffee Shop Writer.

While I was in college (which seems crazy long ago), most of my writing was done in one of two places. The most notorious and terrible one was during classes, when I should have been taking notes (to be honest, even my writerly ADD was in effect then…I always had two notebooks on my desk, one for notes, one for stories); the more effective one was Kaya Coffee House, known then as Kaya Coffee and Tea. So many incredible memories are tied up into this place. It was where I had my first open mic reading. It was where my fiance and I would meet between classes for a little coffee-break date (and subsequently got featured in the student newspaper). It was the setting for the Fiction Collective, the incredible writer group that spawned so many great skills and tales and friendships.

Perhaps it’s just been because I’ve yet to find a coffee shop that strikes me as much as Kaya did, but, since graduating, I’ve never been much of a coffee shop writer. Traverse City had a few good locations; I even worked at one and would sometimes attempt to scribble or type there, but it never developed into the same habit as it did at my “first shop.” Here in Chicagoland, I haven’t even really been trying. I’m too busy more often than not to steal away to write, and I’ve been doing great focusing in my “office” (re: on my bed, surrounded by notebooks).

Then, the other day, I had a few hours to kill between meeting my new area manager and getting together with the significant other, so I headed over to the Barnes & Noble cafe in the mall where I work. I brought my laptop and the first notebook for Serpent in a Cage‘s current draft. I started to transcribe. I worked a blog post. I learned about a Twitter event and shared it with a few of my writer friends on Facebook. In other words, I had one of the most productive hour and a half (my computer was nearly dead and all the socket seats were taken, yaaaar!) I have had in a very, very long time.

And it. Was. Awesome.

You can probably imagine I’m back in that cafe today, working some more. It’s not the best place, being in a busy bookstore with a lot of friends catching up and children running around, but being surrounded by books is fairly inspiring, and, what’s more, I’m fairly undistractable. I don’t know how, but I’m able to focus and actually churn out a lot of really great work. Therein lies the key. For a while now, I’ve done a good job of making sure I dedicate at least a little bit of time to my writing every day, to make sure that my writing is more important than anything else and that I’m writing every day. I’m getting a lot of content churned out, but my social marketing and the nitty-gritty of getting things typed has been neglected.

Not any more. I think I can definitely feel myself getting back into the groove of being a coffee shop writer, and I think the results are going to be very good. Of course, I haven’t had a computer for a while, but I’m loving my Chromebook. And it’s perfect for the days I have opening shifts, where I get out in the late afternoon, can churn out a few hours of work, an then head home (or to the SO’s!) to relax. Managing to fit in the Cursed Day Job and the writing job? Priceless. Especially since a tall soy vanilla latte with an extra shot costs me about five dollars. SIGH.

So, are you a coffee shop writer? Do you find writing in a public space distracting? What do you like about such spaces? And, furthermore, anyone have any good suggestions for coffee shops in the Berwyn area? I bet I could find something up in Oak Park…


  1. I’m afraid it has been way too long since I was in the Chicago area to be any help locating a shop. I do most of my writing on lunch hours, in a parked car while the CEO is shopping, or sitting on my deck. I have never tried writing in pubic, though it looks like it might be a comfortable place to do it.

    • Ooh, sitting on a deck and writing sounds lovely. When I lived up north, there was a lot of outdoor writing for me, but not as much here. My roommate tells me there’s some pretty fabulous nature reserves if you know where to find them, but I’m a little too lazy and/or pressed for time to do too much trekking these days.

  2. It’s amazing how a writer’s surroundings can affect writing. And it doesn’t matter where you work the best. Wherever that is, that’s where you should try to be. I write best in my office. I’ve done all I can to decorate it in a soothing manner, so it’s mostly a beach theme. It’s a shame I have to share my space with my cats. There’s nothing like the litter box to inspire me. LOL

  3. I used to write during college classes too. I’d actually write in the margins of the notes I was taking for class. I’ve never written in a coffee shop though. Mostly just at home, when the kids are sleeping. I can write when they’re up sometimes, but I tend to be distracted(or my son gets into everything he shouldn’t).

    • Margins were for doodles for me! And I can get the best work done when my cats are sleeping. They, like kids, are pretty distracting if they’re up. Thankfully, I bet cats sleep a heck of a lot more than kids.

  4. My coffee shop is the only place I seem to get anything done at all. Last night, my wife and I agreed to spend two hours on writing (me) and reading (her for her pre-doctoral studies.) With the laundry always needing switching out, the fruit fly invasion necessitating a total cleaning of the kitchen and the dogs barking at the chickens next door, I wrote one sentence. And I deleted that sentence this morning. Fortunately, I get an hour or so every morning at the coffee shop where no one knows me or cares to engage in conversation. I am just “the guy who sits in the corner, grande dark roast, no room.” Coffee shops, where novels are born…

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