Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Café of One's Own


I wrote my first book on cross-country flights, at my desk at 5AM, on my bed when sick – practically anywhere. Since then I’ve completed Smasher and two other manuscripts at a café in a hotel a few minutes walk from my house.

Why? At home, when I try to write, I inevitably find myself sucked into email or some siren of a website. Even when I think I’m doing research in Wikipedia or whatever, I look up and find thirty minutes have gone by without a word written. When at the café, I’m not connected to the Net. (The hotel charges $15 to connect to WiFi, which for all intents and purposes means it’s not available.) If I need to look something up, I just mark my manuscript with an “XX” and fill it in after doing the research at home.

The café staff could not be more supportive of my authorial endeavors. When I come in, I’m greeted by name, the music is turned down, and my tea is brought to me. When the café changed beverage purveyors to one who did not carry the tea that fueled my writing engine, the manager arranged to continue getting a special stash of the old tea; it sits in solitary splendor with my name on it in the manager’s office. When the screen on my laptop stopped working, the hotel IT guy spent two hours with me trying to fix it. The general manager of the hotel stopped by last week to introduce himself.

I write there for hours and my teapot is refreshed and refilled. No one seems to mind that I only buy one pot of tea. I wear noise-canceling headphones and look as dorky as can be (see above), but since this is Silicon Valley no one cares. I find the hubbub of quiet music, high tech powwows, and chatting hotel guests to provide a white noise background to write against.

Two weeks ago I had a birthday lunch there. My sister made sure everyone knew what day it was. The on-duty manager told her, “Of course, he’s having his birthday here. He’s family.”

I’ve given away a box of signed books to say thank you. I set a scene in Smasher in the café. Ian Michaels is lucky enough to be served by Marissa, who often serves me.

Although I used to be able to write anywhere, no longer. The words don’t come to me unless I’m in my café floating along on a sea of (my special) green tea. I love the place and the people who work there.

Do any of you write away from home? Away from the Internet? At a café?

15 comments:

Darrell James said...

Keith- I wrote my latest work in the front seat of my pickup in the parking lot outside the Starbucks (much quieter there and I still have access to their bathrooms).

Keith Raffel said...

Darrell, I posted a photo of me in my writing "office." COuld you do the same, please?

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I usually start OUT at home, but frequently have to evacuate or I'm distracted by the dishwasher stopping, the laundry buzzer going off, the evidence of things I need to do around the house...

Elizabeth
Mystery Writing is Murder

G.M. Malliet said...

At the start of a book, I write on paper or laptop in whatever coffee shop keeps the music down. (I have never had the courage to ask that they turn it down.) Once I'm really stuck into the book, tho, I get tied to my main computer.

Lisa Bork said...

Keith, that hotel is spoiling you! Although it's nice to know great customer service still exists somewhere.

I write at home at my desk. That way no one sees my lips moving except the dog.

Julia Buckley said...

I never write away from home, because I'm always at home. But you make it sound very appealing, and I could certainly use a burst of inspiration!

The green tea, I don't know about . . .

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I've had the privilege of visiting Keith in his writing lair and it is lovely. I write best from home. I don't like writing in cafes or libraries or other public places. I feel "on display" or I'm too easily distracted by the people around me. At home I can write for an hour or two, take a break and do something physical and necessary, like clean the bathroom, then resume my writing. Although when I travel, I force myself to write ANYWHERE.

G.M. Malliet said...

What brand of earphones are those, Keith? Maybe if they really canceled the noise, I could come to terms with some of the bad music at my local coffee shop.

G.M. Malliet said...

p.s. I know this is really a basic, low-tech question, but do you have to listen to a white noise recording via your earphones, or do they simply block the noise all by themselves?

Alan Orloff said...

I'm a hermit. I write at home. But I've tricked out my office to look exactly like Keith's coffeeshop. And I look dorky too!

Cricket McRae said...

Love your office, Keith! And Darrell, I've written in my car, too, though not a whole book. It's quiet, temperature controlled, and no one bugs you.

I write all over the place. At home in my basement office with the shades down, laying on the sofa in front of the fire, or on the patio, depending on the time of year. Then, like Elizabeth, I get distracted by all the other things that need to be done and have to leave. Recently I found a coffee shop with sofas upstairs which no one seems to know about. So I can sprawl out in peace (wearing earplugs).

I tell myself that writing while half prone is ergonomic. ; )

Hearth Cricket

Keith Raffel said...

Writing in the car.... Where do you rest the laptop? Elizabeth, Lisa, Julia, Sue Ann, Alan, someone told me that Laura Lippman said her biggest obstacle to getting writing done is laundry. When you're home, there are just too many diversions. Cricket, that couch sounds perfect. Gin, those are Bose headphones. No, you don't need to have any music on. They tamp down surrounding sound. They do well with droning, less well with loud music.

Beth Groundwater said...

Like Keith, my body is conditioned to write in one place, but in my case that is my basement office. I can't listen to music, because then I can't pay attention to the characters talking in my head. And my retired hubby has been trained to (usually) avoid interrupting me in my office and to wait until I emerge on the main level of the house for a break to engage me in conversation.

I'm struggling to find that new space in our Breckenridge home that will put me in the writing mood as soon as I enter the space and sit down, but I have yet to find it. I can write there, but it's harder. Once we sell our CO Springs home (It's going on the market Friday!) and move to Breckenridge full-time, I'm sure I'll be able to train myself to get in the right mood in my designated writing space there, but there will be a transition period.

Kathleen Ernst said...

I love writing in coffeeshops, and have a couple of local favorites. I used to feel guilty about this, since I do have a lovely home office. But home is full of distractions, ranging from dirty dishes staring accusingly from the counter to a cat wanting to play right now. (And don't get me started on the phone, especially robocalls.)

Keith Raffel said...

It's getting worse. Today someone was sitting in my favorite seat and I didn't get really productive till they left and I moved.