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No sheep graziers warnings

A pen sits on an open notebook

I go to cafes to write.

Most writers will understand, but I’ve had some people react with skepticism. “How can you get anything done? Isn’t it too noisy?” Well yes, sometimes, but that’s not always a bad thing.

I go to cafes to write because the ambient noise propels me along, because people bring you coffee so you can’t procrastinate in the kitchen, and I find it easier to get into flow state.

I always liked Neil Gaiman’s practice of going down to his backyard cabin (just out of wifi range) to write. When he was there, he had two options: he was allowed to write, or he was allowed to look out the window. No email. No Twitter. No distractions. I haven’t kept up with Neil’s goings-on for years…I don’t think he has that cabin anymore…and Twitter isn’t Twitter anymore. But the advice still stands.

I am very fortunate to have what I have dubbed the Creative Room of Requirement in our house, but it’s still very easy to get distracted. I have written in there and it’s a beautiful space in which to write; sitting at the purple-painted table I can see the variegated green of the pine trees around the perimeter of our yard, bright blue sky, and little else. I can still access the wifi, but I have tried very hard to not bring devices or screens into the space. Currently, though, it’s been taken over by my linocut printmaking and there’s stuff everywhere, so it’s not quite the tranquil space it started out as. And it will morph over time, depending on what I’m doing.

So cafes it is. I am also finding that, despite my terrible handwriting, I have gone back to drafting in longhand rather than typing. It allows me space and time to think, and definitely cuts out the digital distractions.

But sometimes the balance is wrong, and voices can be too loud. I’d much rather sit at a large communal table with other singletons than next to others at two-seaters, especially when they’re slightly too close together as they tend to be in most cafes these days. For example, today at Tatler’s Lane I can’t help but eavesdrop on the two women getting to know each other who are less than a ruler’s length away from me. I’ve learned all about the weather in Auckland and where they went for holidays and what their morning routines are. Some people just have those voices that cut through everything. Next time I’ll ask to sit at the big table.

The women leave, and for a moment I am surrounded by calm and silence, even amidst the usual cafe chatter. Their energy was so strong it was like a wave pulling away from the shore when they left.

Five minutes later, another couple is seated nearby and I pause, waiting to hear if they will upset the balance too. They operate at a different frequency. I can barely make out their voices, and their conversation slips back into the cafe’s burbling current.

I like being amongst people when I write, but not necessarily having to interact. I like observing, filing away little descriptions and details that might be useful in some future character. I like the movement and the activity that demands nothing of me.

For a cafe to work as a first draft writing space for me, it needs:

  • to have excellent coffee and snacks that won’t bankrupt me

  • to not be too slick or sterile or chain store-y, but to have a comfortable and creative vibe

  • to be big enough that I can stay as long as I like and not feel like I’m taking up space and people are waiting for my table (small places with only two or three tables are rarely good writing places even if they’re not busy because you feel super conspicuous)

  • friendly staff who know when to leave you alone and when it’s time for another coffee, and who make you feel welcome to do your thing (well, that should be a given at any cafe, right?)

  • music that sets a vibe but is unobtrusive

  • a window or two to gaze out of

What are your ideal writing/creating conditions?