Monday, 8 August 2016

8 Tips for Writing in Cafés

It's the summer holidays, and while my children are no longer at that age where they expect to be entertained every minute of the day, there is that expectation that mum will be the one driving them to where they expect to be entertained every minute of the day. Which is how I found myself working from a café for two mornings last week, instead of my nice snug study.

It certainly brought back memories. When the children were younger I would regularly take them to one of those indoor play centres. They would go crazy sliding through twisty plastic tunnels and getting lost in ball pits, and I'd drink lots of coffee and write. Much of Breathless was written this way - but it did help that I'm the kind of person who can screen out background noise as I work!

But even I was surprised at how much I managed to achieve last week. I'm not sure if it was the coffee, a different environment or just being away from the Internet - probably the latter! So if you feel the need to get away for a few hours, just to write, here are my tips:

(1) Choose a café where you are already known, or one that's part of a large chain where you'll blend in with everyone else.

(2) Go during a quiet time so you're not seat hogging, and sit in a quiet area so you're less likely to be disturbed or asked if you're writing a book - although this is a good opportunity to hone your elevator pitch!

(3) Order plenty of drinks to keep the staff happy enough that they won't turf you out, but don't go mad because it'll get expensive. Preferably, use a café that has a loyalty card scheme - after a few visits you'll get a free drink!

(4) Sit facing the room unless you want people reading your draft sex scenes over your shoulder. There's no greater temptation than an open laptop. 

(5) If you're the kind of person who can't write in a noisy environment, try revising or proof-reading instead. In the old days I used to cart around a huge A4 lever arch file with my manuscript in it, now I copy my work onto a Kindle. Alternatively, just print out a few chapters.

(6) Consider using a (shock horror) notebook and pen. A notebook doesn't need charging, you don't have to worry about it being damaged and it's far more portable. But take more than one pen, in case it runs out, and ensure that it's comfortable to write with.

(7) Don't expect to write perfect prose. In fact, don't expect to write anything at all. Start off writing notes, like a long synopsis. With any luck you'll find the notes will get longer and turn into snatches of dialogue or description and then whole scenes. Before you know it, you'll have drafted an entire chapter.

(8) But if you find writing fiction in a café doesn't work for you, try something else - outline a new story, or write a blog post or article instead.

And if all else fails, get out your camera. You never know when all those Instagrammed coffee shots are going to come in handy ...

Related Posts:

A Room of One's Own
Getting Noted
My Writing Process
Seeking Inspiration
Where I Write (written for Novelistas Ink)

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  1. I find editing or proofreading a lot easier in cafes than I find actual writing. I think I can get immersed easier...and I hate carting around a laptop so having a proper print out (and the dread red pen) is more fun! Plus it won't cost a fortune if I accidentally spill coffee on a print out, compared to a laptop!

    1. I would worry about having a laptop pinched or broken - I hadn't actually considered I might spill coffee on it! I think I might feel a bit self-conscious too, whereas if you're scribbling in a notebook, you might be writing anything!

      Thanks for commenting! x

  2. I love planning in cafes. I actually writer extremely well on trains.

    1. The planning bit usually works quite well in cafes. You can people watch too! I've never tried to write on a train. I did try to edit on a plane once but it was just too noisy (even for me!) and I couldn't concentrate.

  3. Ooh I've never written on a train, but I might try it now! I agree - Proofreading and editing are a much easier prospect when you find yourself in distracting environments. I sometimes find it hard to think when I'm in a cafe, but it's true that you do get quite a lot done. Probably because you just have to sit there, so there's no getting away from it! Lastly, I find hotels good - more space and you don't feel like you're hogging a table ;)

    1. Hotels? Oh yes please! I think we have so little free time that it is good to get into the habit of carrying a notebook and pen around, so when you are held up somewhere - in a doctor's waiting room, for instance - you can make use of the time and not just sit there staring into space. Which I see a lot of people doing! Maybe they're just not writers - or even readers!

      (I think in my case it was because I got away from the Internet!)

  4. Great post and very handy advice. I love the idea, it has something romantic to write in a cafe, so might try it some time.

    1. Thank you, Suze! While I was writing the post I did keep thinking about JK Rowling, who used to write in a cafe - she even had her 'own' chair! The thing is, even if you can't write the perfect sentence (a bit of an impossible expectation!), you can still write a rough draft or even notes x

  5. Louise--
    Wonderful advice. I especially like tip #8.

    1. Thank you, Victoria! Just sitting there and people watching can also be good inspiration. You meet a lot of strange folk in cafes!