How Writers Write

Writing in Cafés

I know. How obvious could I be? J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter series author, writing in a cafe. -Really?- Yes, really. I just had to. I could not write this article and not have her in it! It all started in a cafe for her!

Why do writers write in cafés? What is it about them that makes them so attractive and conducive to writing?

We know that:

  • They’re warm (or cool, in summer).
  • They have nice mellow music.
  • You get to have your own private space where no one will bother you.
  • You can easily set up your notebooks, laptop, or tablet – or, write on a napkin, if you so choose.
  • It’s a different environment, getting away from a distracting house or the usual dull desk.

Is there anything else about it? Perhaps there’s a psychological study, I wonder. Perhaps famous writers have commented on it. Maybe some people hate writing in cafés. I started to wonder, because recently I took up writing in a local coffee shop.

It is nice! Everything is quiet and the music is…smooooooth. No interruption. It glides over and around you and stirs you but does not disturb your work. Oh, plus there’s the coffees and teas and croissants just beckoning that you sip or nibble on them whilst you try to come up with the next Great American Novel. Yes, we can’t forget the croissants. Crunch!

The perks of being away from the dull desk are also helpful to me. I just recently moved and I miss my old desk. It was in a corner of my room by the window, and when I needed to think I could stare out the window and drift away…the new desk is blocky, smaller, and has a window further away from it. It’s in a hot area of the room, sortof in the middle. Not the same at all! -sigh-

Writer Daphne du Maurier at her decidedly not-dull desk. She looks annoyed at being interrupted – see? Desks! They are a blessing and a plague.

Anyway. Here is what I found on writing in cafés. (You know, I had to decide before writing this post whether to keep the diacritical mark over the letter E. What do you think – yay or nay?):

20 Reasons Why Creative People Like to Go to Cafes to Work

Mitch Ditkoff came up with way better reasons for writing in a café than I did. I had to share his post. I especially like his humor and the community aspect of it that he put in:

9. There are no distracting tasks to default to (i.e. cleaning your desk, filing, tossing paper clips over the cubicle wall).

15. You like the authenticity of your responses when the geek at the next table, peeking up from his Mac, asks what you’re working on.

16. It’s like having a focus group at your beck and call. You can ask anyone for their opinion and they’ll give it, no strings attached.

19. If you go back to the same cafe again and again, you develop trusting relationships with some of the other regulars — sharing enthusiasm, feedback, and croissants.

Yes! Again with the croissants.

Here’s an open letter from a writer who works in cafés who wants to know about the other people there (I can relate):

From Stamos to the Other People

Jason Lundberg puts emphasis on the lack of intrusions:

A café provides that perfect middle ground. As long as it’s not too crowded or noisy, I can appreciate the other people sitting at their tables, drinking their lattes, eating their artisanal sandwiches, having quiet conversations. I still plug in my ear buds so that I can choose music that will fade into the background as white noise, but the sound level is never too much to overcome my focus. But the best part is that no one else there gives a shit about me, and I’m largely left alone, which is important in maintaining that focus, the only exceptions being the respectful staff who are either trained in or are instinctually keen on minimizing their intrusions.

Jason Lundberg

Sometimes this is why we write in cafes. Haha!

Those Jerks Who Write in Cafes

Last but not least, a fantastic little piece which gets into the “psychology” of writing in cafés. He includes this fantastic bit on the café that is made to scare technology-dependent writers away:

The coffee-shop writer needs to be, as the sociologists would say, an outlier and not a pioneer. You don’t want to be the laptop cowboy who signals to other laptop cowboys that this is the place to be. You want the club that won’t have you as a member. Extreme case in point, the quite delightful Grumpy Coffee on West 20th Street in Manhattan, which bans laptops. To write there, you have to print out and use a pen, two radical moves that automatically exclude anyone under the age of 30. (I have seen hipsters, lugging their seven-pound PowerBooks and 12-foot extension cords, look at the no-laptop sign at the counter and let out a low, uncomprehending moan—whoa—the way they did when they heard they were wait-listed at Bard.)

The token looks for the coffee shop that is other: no comfy chairs, no Wi-Fi, no outlets, and coffee so ridiculously expensive that it functions as a tax on lingering. A good example: La Stanza on the Bleicherweg in Zurich, which I stumbled across this past spring. Simple, high-ceilinged room; long counter, small wooden tables, brusque white-shirted waiters, no food except for tiny, perfect, toasted pastries filled with sweet cream. (Yum!) The clientele largely consists of shady-looking types in pinstripes from any one of the area’s dozens of private banks. I recommend the table in the far corner.
Malcolm Gladwell

I have a lot more to say on this. I want to get into sociological studies. I want to check out different cafes in different cities and countries. I want to write via laptop, notebook, and typewriter, and see how it feels.

But I said I would not ramble in my next post. Plus, there are always other things to write. So – Auf Wiedersehen!


5 thoughts on “Writing in Cafés

  1. Haha.. Interesting quotes! For me, it’s having that morning cuppa that encourages me to do some writing at the cafe.. and I prefer a place less crowded as well 🙂


    1. Ok, that one worked. (refused a previous comment).

      So, I was saying that, in your list of five reasons at the top, Chaitanya, it seems to me that the 5th one is most likely. The other four you can’t count on; a cafe’ can always play bad music if they want to; customers can be rude or crazy; and the a/c was broken in 2 or 3 cafes I go to, already this summer. But you can still get away from your housemate, house, bf/gf, and so on, at a cafe. But I would add another reason: to get away from the home they *don’t* have. For the homefree, everybody is their housemate, and that can really be no fun sometimes, when you need peace, quiet, or privacy.


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