John Scalzi’s book on writing is called You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop. The title riffs off those pretentious people who need to write publicly for validation:
Ha! Stupid silly pompous Starbucks people!
Actually, I’m one of them. I get a hell of a lot of writing done in coffee shops. I don’t make $100K a year like Scalzi does — I make about $10K in a good year. And a lot of that gets spent on coffee! Doesn’t that prove Scalzi’s point?
Not exactly. I’m at a different point in my writing career from Scalzi — I’m just trying to build a reader base, while Scalzi already has a base. I’ve only been a full-time writer for about three years, while Scalzi’s been at it for about 17 years. I could also make a lot more money writing if I needed to; I’m simply fortunate that I don’t need the money, so I’m pursuing my writing career the way I want to. I don’t want to spend a lot of time pitching stories and tracking down interviews, so I don’t do that kind of writing.
I’m also not as prolific as Scalzi. Is it because I’m wasting my time in coffee shops? I don’t think so. For me a change of scenery can help me focus. I also do better when I can get away from distractions, and the biggest distraction of all is the internet. I go to coffee shops that don’t have broadband, or that charge for broadband by the hour (I never buy). Let’s face it: Scalzi is an amazingly prolific writer. On a good day, I write about 1,500 words, and I take weekends off. More typical is probably 1,000 words. Scalzi averaged 1,875 per day for all of last year — including weekends. So while I might have written 200,000 words last year (even that figure seems high to me), Scalzi (who actually did the math) wrote 650,000.
But in my view, even 100,000 a year would be plenty productive — that’s a longer than average book, every year. So I’m writing enough to satisfy myself, and I’m making enough money to satisfy myself. By my personal standards, I’m doing pretty well. Would I like to get more stuff published? Make more money? Absolutely! But all in all, I’m pretty happy with where I am right now.
That said, I do have one problem with my writing habits: they’re wasteful. Do I really need to drive my car 5 miles to the nearest coffee shop that doesn’t offer free broadband (remember, avoiding the distraction of the internet is the most important reason for me to work in coffee shops!) in order to write? Must I waste all that fuel, just to get away from the World Wide Web?
Of course not — I can just turn off my DSL modem. So that’s what I’m going to do from here on out. I’ll only work in a coffee shop if I need to go out for another errand anyway. Otherwise, I’ll just write at home, with the internet turned off. I’ve been trying it for the past week or so, and it’s worked just fine. But I still say there’s nothing wrong with writing in a coffee shop.