“Look! I’m a millennial!”, I shriek at my husband via WhatsApp. I follow up with a badly composed photograph of a steaming cup of peppermint green tea in a trendy statement mug.
“I might have a scone in a minute”.
Pause. “Lovely x”, he replies.
“634 words so far!”.
I wait for praise.
“Lovely x”, he replies. He adds a smiley face, and then “Love you xx”
I am in a coffee shop. I am writing. And I adore it.
I’ve got a history of trying out places to write. I frequently head off to find a ‘special’ space in the library. In my own house, despite having a perfectly serviceable home office, I end up writing at the kitchen table, or curled up on the comfy chair in the bedroom. Traditional office space just doesn’t do it for me.
Enter my new love: The Coffee Shop.
I know, I know. I’m hardly hitting you with revelatory material here. Writers have frequented coffee shops for decades. It’s even classed as an art.
But here’s the thing. I’m not good with change. And once I’ve found a place that works, I return. The same computer station in the library. The same space at the kitchen table. The same chair in the same bedroom. I go back. I don’t mix it up. I get annoyed if someone’s sat in ‘my’ place in the library. I would never throw caution to the wind and sit on the opposite side of my kitchen table. You get the drift.
Walking in a new place, not knowing the precise layout and exactly where I am going to plonk myself is a big deal for me. But so is spending large amounts of time in the house. And that’s essentially what I’ve been given permission to do during my sabbatical. I do not need to leave to go to work. And that has troubled me. Because the last time I spent a significant time away from work and home alone, I was very unwell. So, since my sabbatical began, I have bitten the bullet and walked into new places. And that started with coffee shops.
A few things your coffee shop must have in abundance:
First, wifi. A decent one too. I’ve rejected one coffee shop already on account of its poor connection. If you’re going to lug your laptop around with you (and I’m not fussy about location – I like a walk) you want to be able to actually write. And all of my essential writing software – Scrivener, EndNote, the University of Manchester Academic Phrasebank, and the online thesaurus – requires the internet.
Second, a good selection of drinks. I hate coffee. I hate it so much I even reject any chocolate with the merest hint of coffee flavour. And, as everyone knows, if I rebuff chocolate something’s desperately wrong. I need another beverage. A freshly brewed lemon and ginger tea. Or, as I had yesterday, a beautifully fragrant (and bright pink) kiwi and strawberry infusion. Lovely. Hot, in a pot, enough to last 500 words. Frothy hot chocolate is also an excellent choice when it’s cold and you’ve convinced yourself your contribution to knowledge is a load of old rot.
Third, plenty of different places to sit. Do you like to be on a small table away from everyone else? Do you prefer being slumped on the comfy sofas by the door? Do you need to be near the barista so you can order the amazing sourdough toast with just a leap from your table? These things matter. You need to be comfortable. One coffee shop that is swiftly becoming my favourite has a selection of small square tables (almost like old school desks). There is clearly room for a chair each side. And some tables do have two chairs. But a number have only one. One small desk, with one small chair. No one’s going to ask if they can take the spare chair. No one’s going to sit down randomly. It’s just you, in your chair.
Fourth, people. Not too many mind. Just enough for there to be a buzz. Last week, I shared a room with an elderly couple who did not speak to each other, a mother sharing an awkward conversation with her son, two men in suits talking about how Susan (not real name) needs to have more confidence in herself, an academic from Teesside university (institutional login logo gave the game away), many many couples, a huge gang of hip (yes, I said hip) young people having a really fun looking meeting, and a lone man in a multicoloured bobble hat accompanied by a little brown sausage dog with a sparkly collar. Okay, I made the last one up. But I’m telling you, one day that very man with that very dog will sit across from me in a coffee shop. Because I have learned that all manner of individuals pop for a cuppa and a scone. And you pick up bits of discussion, and you like the look of their sharp grey suit, and (full disclosure – and you’d do it too) you might even judge them a tiny bit for being too loud and diminishing Susan.
And that is why I wrote 7,477 words in coffee shops in one week. Because it made me creative, and happy, and, clearly, more productive. My goal was to write The Ethics Chapter by the end of September. I finished it today, 6 days early. See you in the coffee shop. Mine’s a hot chocolate. And don’t forget the sourdough toast.