Writing in public

As I sit here in a coffee shop, ostensibly finishing my next script, I find myself pondering the dynamic of writing in public. I recall being in a cafe a few years ago. It was connected to the local brew-and-view, and it was a place where movie-types hang out. A kid was hacking away right there at the counter on an old Remington typewriter. It was obvious from his formatting that he was working on a script. You couldn’t avoid looking at him–clackety, clackety, clackety…zing. I was reminded of Jim Harrison’s aphorism: “You can’t create great art if you’re always yelling ‘Look at me!’ like a three-year-old who has just shit in the sandbox.”

So that gets me to wondering my own motivation for writing in public places, coffee shops in particular. I can come up with a host of practical reasons, but I also can’t avoid the notion that there is a certain amount of exhibitionism in the practice. I want to be seen writing scripts, even if people don’t know what I’m working on. “I’m special, dammit! I’m an artist. Look at me!”

This is no different from why Hemingway wrote in cafes in 1920s Paris. He was building a public image, and, perhaps, more importantly, an internal image of himself as a writer. We all know what a solitary, isolating pursuit this can be.

That being said, there are also many good reasons for writing in a cafe. First, there is the precedent set by Mr. Hemingway and his cohorts. It’s just what one does if one is a writer. You are part of the tradition. Writers haunt cafes. In my own case, there’s also the fact that a four-year-old girl inhabits my domicile. It’s hard to write with an little person around. There’s a certain kind of peace one can find in the chatter and bustle of a cafe that one can’t find in a quiet office at home. Especially if a kid keeps opening the door and poking her head in to ask for help dressing a Barbie.

There is also a certain amount of pressure you put on yourself when writing in public. Since you’re posing in public as a writer, you have to be seen actually writing. Working those keys is part of the package.

Next, there’s the issue to easy access to strong, quality coffee. That’s essential. Most of my bad habits are dying a slow death as I age. I’ve even given up my nightly glass (or three) of my beloved red wine, limiting libations pretty much to the weekend. One of my sole remaining vices is great quantities of caffeine. Writing in cafes puts me in close proximity to the supply.

I find the best cafes have both outdoor seating and lack of wireless access. Getting away from the distraction of the Web for a few hours increases my productivity. And as for the outdoor seating, this may be less universal, but I thrive on being out of doors. I’m sitting in a cafe in northern Oregon right now looking at a view of the Coast Range. It’s a crisp 45 degrees, and the sun is shining. Perfect writing weather…just enough chill in a vest and sweatshirt to keep me from being too comfortable.

Writers write in cafes. And part of the equation is certainly posing. When I was recently in LA, I spent a lot of time in cafes in Santa Monica and Hollywood. I had time to kill, and few locations are more oppressive than hotel rooms. So I sought out the famous cafes and actually accomplished some productive work. Some of the more notable cafes of choice for LA screenwriter-types include the Bourgieos Pig in Hollywood and the Novel Cafe in Santa Monica. Both are excellent locations, and I recommend them highly. You’re bound to see scripts open on laptops as you walk through with your double Americano looking for a table. These establishments have eclectic atmospheres and are filled with other writers taking advantage of the poseur practicality of writing in public.

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