On writing in coffee shops

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.

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4 Responses to On writing in coffee shops

  1. TWB says:

    Ha! I’m pretty sure I’m one of those guys, although I have never thought that being a coffee house dork was pretentious.

    My local ‘Bucks has an elevated work space, and it’s the perfect place to elevate my thinking as well.

  2. Anne says:

    Upon returning from Florida, I found a copy of Walter Mosley’s new book on writing–“This Year You Write Your Novel.”

    I prefer the stringent but welcoming tone of that about a million times more than Scalzi’s self-important snarkiness. Ick.

    Some people get work done in monkish silence. Some get work done in public. Some people in Starbuck’s are silly poseurs. Some are J.K. Rowling.

    The proof is in the pudding.

    (I love it when WordMunger is up and running more often, btw….)

  3. Looks great coffee house…..mmmmm….I wish to be one among them though.

  4. megan says:

    I think that this website is dumb and it should be about J.K. Rowling and shouldn’t be
    some stupid page

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