I ran into a writer acquaintance today. We are not exactly friends, but we share mutual friends and run into each other every six months or so. He has written a number of successful movies for A-list stars and has assignments for the next several years already booked, so I always listen when he talks. This time, I ran into he, his wife and their little boy at a coffee shop in a part of town I do not usually frequent. He asked why I was there and, more importantly, where I usually have coffee. I told him about a little coffee shop by the beach. He asked more about it. “Does it have outside tables?” “What is the crowd like?” “Does it get the beach breeze?” I finally asked why he wanted to know. He said, “I’m always looking for a better place to write.”

I abandoned coffee shops several years ago, believing myself to be too professional. But this conversation served as a reality check. I used to get an incredible amount of highly focused work done in the coffee shops. In fact, thinking back, I believe it was easier to focus in those days than it is today in my current office, with the phone, the fax, the kid and all the other distractions of life all around. There’s something about the din of conversation that acts as a buffer between writing and the world. There’s also something about being alone in a crowd. And, there’s definitely something about having good coffee, bagels, muffins and, eventually, lunch, all handy just for the asking.

Maybe I’m not too good for the coffee shops. Maybe its time to wake up and smell the coffee.


  1. I get a lot of work done at Denny’s and Applebee’s. Not only are they kid free, but neither has wireless internet. The only thing available to do is write. (Had to take solitaire off the desktop, though!)

  2. This is always such an interesting topic between writers. We all recognize that we’re each different and as such, work most effectively in different situations.
    You’ve struck on the great magical key to it all – “the din.” I’ve got to have some music – nothing words – at a certain level going in the headphones. That ensconces me where I am and I can do just about any kind of writing I need.

  3. Hey, for some reason, I can’t get anything accomplished at HOME… There’s just always stupid crap sitting there making me feel guilty for not completing… Or for that matter… NOT EVEN STARTING.

    Going to MY coffee shop somehow gets me into the JOB mode i.e., when I arrive, check my email, purchase my Americano, it’s time to go to work.

    At home, just too many distractions for me.

    For some reason, the coffee shop puts me into the writing mode.


  4. Coffee shops are okay if the tables are big enough. But usually they’re not and there’s always some non-writing jackass with a cell phone around to break up the concentration. I’m a big fan of the LA Libraries. A lot have free wi-fi, big tables to spread stuff out on if necessary, and hired shushers to keep people quiet.

  5. I think the key is that there are distractions, background noise, and life… but they are not YOUR distractions. They are not problems that you have to deal with or solve in the near future. When you are at Starbucks and a kid cries, you can ignore it. At home I am immediately catapulted back to my childhood, standing forlornly on the porch while my dad works on the car or whatever and is too busy to hear about my hangnail, then the guilt sets in. Not that this actually happened. I had a vicarious troubled childhood via Lifetime Movie Network.

  6. For me the hum of conversation and being alone in a crowd is a much more productive environment than being at home with so many distractions. Also, I made a point to not have wireless access on my laptop, so even if the coffee shop has wifi, I can’t use it, so I don’t have that distraction either.

    The biggest issue for me is finding a coffee shop with enough electrical outlets. I’m bad about remembering to recharge my laptop battery, so I often need to plug in.

  7. I need quiet and that’s a tough thing to come by. I’ve tried Starbucks but all I do is come back home annoyed because I got nothing done. I get distracted too easily. I hear a conversation or I just start observing people, I’m gone. Need quiet, need that white noise.

  8. When I was in high school and college, I used to frequent coffee shops and get a TON of writing done. But in recent years, packing up my laptop and lugging it to an overcrowded coffee shop seems quite the hassle. Also, since I quit smoking, I’ve found myself not lingering outside coffee shops too often. I get my coffee and go. Working at home can be distracting, but I also feel great when I get a lot of writing done, despite those distractions.

  9. Well, this amongst other things has inspired me to make my own website, based around the premise of a coffeeshop (in this case, the surreal appeal of an abandoned one), to whit I am hoping to create something along the lines of the incredilby articulate and varied

    Even though I’m doing a Maths degree at uni, I always find the time to write, and the best time is a pad of paper and a pen in a coffee shop. Whatever I’m writing (it’s also rather varied), be it an article for the university newspaper, or a new rant/blog for a friend, it’s always much more, well, fluid, in a coffeeshop…

    Maybe it’s the immersion in a social environment where you don’t physically participate, or maybe it’s the caffeine, who knows how these mysterious ingenious places work. After all is said and done, and I’m glad they exist and have the atmosphere and prescence in soceity that is so very vital to me and what I love doing.

    Obligatory plug: check out for either obscure writers, or if you want to submit new and exciting work, just so as to get it out there and seen by other people. In a few weeks time.

  10. I read your article and laughed out loud. At this very moment I am sitting in my local coffee shop in Stamford – England, enjoying a latte and tea cake whilst replying to e-mails and outlining my next children’s book. This book, like the two before, will be written in a coffee shop. Although I have an excellent studio where I’m able to write to my heart’s content, during the day I find it very difficult to settle and be productive there. However, the constant wittering and din in the coffee shop somehow helps me to focus and get my work done. And I thought it was just an oddity of mine. Hurrah! for coffee shops.

  11. I must admit, for a long time I thought that people who wrote in coffee shops were posing, more in love with the notion of being a writer than actually writing…

    Well, since I’ve finished university I have found myself in a similar position to these other people who can’t write at home. Too many distractions. I was at a coffee shop to meet someone, and they called and cancelled. Luckily I had my notebook with me and I whipped it out and started writing. And it worked. I am now firmly a coffee shop convert. The trouble I guess now, is finding a good one. Most places in Joburg are very commercially driven, designed to have you in and out asap.

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