Writing in a Café: How to Keep Your Space

Nah, not like that. But it’s an option. It might lead to you being banned from your favourite café, though, so use with caution. Or opt for openly and loudly applying hand sanitizer.

Odds are that there will be people in your café who aren’t there to work, meet up with someone they arranged to see or just enjoy their own company. In fact, they might be looking for the company of others, be it just a chat or something more. This is normal coffee shop/ café culture . After all, you’re a social person as well (most of the time, I’m guessing), and you’re perfectly open to meeting new people, networking, possibly forging a neighborhood familiarity or even a new friendship.

I’m not averse to engaging, because that is also another reason you venture out to work away from the comfort of your home. But I came here with a purpose, so how do I keep the space I need for it?

As already hinted, have a pair of headphones handy. It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re listening to music. Or maybe you feel fine without them – also great. But as a woman coming in alone somewhere I’m used to being approached or talked to, even if it’s a short exchange, not necessarily an unwanted one too. If I’m settling down to work on a writing or blogging idea I’ve been carrying around for days, teaching it how to walk on its own before I release it into the world, I need to stay focused. I’ve carved out time for this and I want to make the most of it. Plenty of people still have an inner social brake if they see someone with headphones in. And if not, you have the right to look properly annoyed if you get tapped on the shoulder (depending on the situation and who’s tapping, of course) and have to take out the headphones after all.

Wear comfortable clothing (not PJs, although it’s so tempting – I just imagine it sometimes) that you don’t have to think about once you sit down. Nothing that you need to tuck in or adjust periodically, pull at, maybe a favourite scarf in the event of a draft (so distracting and who wants neck pain after), a signature accessory (I’m that writer/ blogger/ creative person/ everybody look at this thing I got on vacation).

Take a book or notebook (don’t forget the pens!) with you to do something else between typing if you need to pause or think something through, so you still make it clear that you’re occupied. Write some to-do-lists, answer your friend’s text, think about what to give your dad for his birthday, get up and ask the barista about that tea you liked so much. Only if you want to, though. Everyone should be able to stop and stare into space if they wish to.

If you get approached or spoken to, I’m sure you’ll be able to play it by ear. If you don’t want to engage in a longer conversation, there are polite ways of ending it (“I really have to get back to work now”, “Well, thanks for the tip (put headphones back in)”, “Have a nice day (put headphones back in)”, just to name a few). Most people will pick up on social cues or just follow plain good manners. And if you want to continue talking, it’ll happen naturally.

This all goes both ways. If I want to approach someone or ask a question beyond whether I can borrow the sugar, I’ll watch them for a little while first (in a non-creepy way is the obligatory addition to this sentence). There are loads of polite openings that will soften the possible blow of essentially intruding on someone’s bubble of time, and hopefully I’m also socially competent enough to recognize when the interaction is over or if it will continue. Obviously there’s always the option of exchanging contact information and picking up where you left off later, when neither person is deep in answering the muse or working towards a deadline.

I just spotted the jovial middle-aged newspaper reader from yesterday, good that I’m already settled and typing. He’s looking around! Headphones? Mais oui, bien sur! Also one of my neighbours who was very happy when I lent him a stepladder once and enthusiastically attempted to engage me in a subsequent conversation about whether I was Turkish (that was a new one, considering all the stuff I’ve already heard), repeating his name two times, sat down at the table next to mine, despite there being other free ones and me silently asking him not to in my head. However, he didn’t seem to recognize me or simply didn’t want to talk – score! His phone and the pinging noises it was making proved to be more absorbing.

An illustration to all of the above. I looked up on reflex at the person settling at the free table next to me and was pleasantly surprised to see it was an author whose (thrilling and wonderfully written) book signing I had been at fairly recently. We smiled and said hello, chatted a little, then I said I’d let her work in peace. I put my headphones back in, she got her drink, sat down, plugged in her own headphones and began to work. That’s how it’s done.

Advertisements

When Blocked Creatively

When I think about this, I always remember a radio interview with J.K. Rowling from quite a few years back now. She describes staring at a blank piece of paper and not being able to write after the tabloid press had riffled through her past and published the results. She said she had a very strong compulsion to write, it was something over which she had very little control and which she wanted to do a lot. The words were simple, but the pain behind them was palpable. This was the real thing.

Of course, whatever is causing blockage or a drained feeling doesn’t have to be big in scope or a harrowing experience, nor does it deserve any less attention, regardless of what puts you on pause when you don’t want to be. But it does help to step back and examine, if it’s because of this and that, is it really as bad as I think, and is it worth not doing what I want to do because of it?

We all have different ways of dealing with this – here’s what helps me.

legally blonde

Sleep

This applies especially if you are trying to start or finish something in the evening and it just won’t come together. There may be a very simple explanation – you are tired! So go to bed. Chances are you will wake up early and refreshed the next morning, and as a result what you wanted to do will turn out faster and better than if you tried to force yourself the night before. Particularly if you are getting something done before you go to your day job. Of course, sometimes we have to grit our teeth and work a longer evening or even night on a creative endevour, because we don’t have a choice, for whatever reasons. But if you do, give yourself that break. And if you are inspired and on a roll, well, great!

Distance

This can be executed in many ways. Sometimes all you need is to get away from the laptop, sit down, close your eyes and breathe through your nose. Things become clearer and it’s easier to pinpoint what was causing the wobbliness. Getting some chores out of the way might also be helpful, even if you tend to procrastinate on those in the name of art (no, that’s never happened to me, pah!). It’s so much pleasanter to sit down to whatever you’re dying to do when the laundry is finished. Nobody cancelled the fact that you do not want to live in a hovel. And one of the easiest ways to get some distance is to go for a walk. A two-week trip to the Canary Islands might be pushing it a bit far, but hey, if it helps and you can swing it financially, why not. Anyway, do go outside.

Attention

For me this is simply listening to yourself and doing some tougher self-exploration if necessary. Something is bugging you or you feel frustration that is distracting you from the project at hand. What is it? What do you keep coming back to in your mind? Is it a bigger problem, or a smaller incident that happened earlier? Can you do anything about it? If yes, do you need or want to do that right now? If not, let go, at least for the time you wanted to allot to your project.

Exercise

Yup.

Communication

Write it out in a journal, meet up with a friend who understands, talk to your Grandma if she loves hearing about your progress, watch interviews on YouTube with writers, artists, performers you admire about how they work and deal with the hardships. You might hear something helpful.

Pep

Some positivity goes a long way. Take a break and do something that stimulates you and where you feel your best, whether it’s a favourite activity, a building you like to look at, listening to cheesy mood-boosting songs from your youth or reading a book in the park. These favourite things might also be the key to some inspirational ideas already.

Discipline

All of the above is good, but it all comes down to the fact that we have to buckle down and just do it if we want to accomplish something. That’s all there is to it. I read an article recently about showing as much commitment to your creative projects as to your day job, for those of us who are in that situation, and I completely agree. This doesn’t mean getting up as early during the weekend or spending an 8-hour day on things in addition to the five you already do, but if you want it, you have to make your own personal job of it. Nitty-gritty life wisdom I sincerely hope I can follow myself.

nikeOf course, we are all only human, after all. I like to remember this here saying from the great and powerful Internet: “If plan A doesn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters. Stay cool!”