Writing in Coffeehouses

Here’s an article in the Atlantic that I immediately identified with — “Working Best at Coffee Shops.” I figured out quite a while ago that when I’m writing, I get a lot more done at a coffee shop (such as the late, lamented Aurafice on Capitol Hill, and the closed-until-further-notice Wayward in Greenwood) than I ever manage sitting at home. A lot of my friends find that kind of strange — they think the environment would be too distracting. But as this article says, I find it just distracting enough:

“Put in a silent room before a blank page, it’s almost impossible to write. Neither is it be ideal to work near a television set that keeps drawing one’s attention or a room where a child keeps interrupting. In a coffeehouse, its rare for someone to intrude on the space of a patron with an open laptop and a look of concentration. Still, there is just enough conversation and foot traffic in the background that you’re forced to semi-consciously tune it out [….] Forced to focus on a single thing the mind rebels, whereas adding another element somehow focuses it. The coffeehouse somehow provides that element.”

The article goes on to provide other theories as to what’s at work here, and I agree with them, too.  If you’re having trouble sitting down at home and making yourself write, you might try getting out of the house instead.

You could, I suppose, if you really wanted to, try to find the same level of detached engagement in a tea shop, a restaurant, a library. . . but I think there is something particular about coffee at work here.  “Coffee sets the blood in motion and stimulates the muscles,” observed Honore de Balzac; “it accelerates the digestive processes, chases away sleep, and gives us the capacity to engage a little longer in the exercise of our intellects.”