Exposing Your Prose In Public

I’ve noticed a big trend towards writing in public, specifically coffee shops, cafes and bookstores. Now that all of these places have wi-fi and everyone has a laptop or netbook or tablet, more and more people are taking their computers out to these places. When I go to Barnes & Noble or Starbucks or even Dunkin Donuts, they’re chock full of people tapping away on their keyboards, and I think its safe to guess that at least one or two of them are working on a book or dissertation or some other form of writing. Do these type of environments really help people write? Or do people just think it looks cool to be seen working on some great scholarly masterpiece. Personally, I find it distracting, the noise and people and music. I have the attention span of a six month old child, so its difficult for me to focus in that type of setting.

My creative writing group is held at B&N and I often wish we could gather somewhere quieter and more private. My writing group is one of the few occurrences where I find I am able to write these days, and its very frustrating for me when I can’t concentrate because some kid is playing their Nintendo DS at full volume or some idiot doesn’t understand they’re not in a sound proof phone booth when they’re SCREAMING INTO THEIR CELL PHONE for an hour. And what is it about a group of writers gathered around a table that draws these inconsiderate cretins like moths to a flame????

I think a lot of people like the idea of bein a writer more than they like actually writing. They like the idea of sitting in the corner of some quaint, cozy little cafe on a Saturday morning, wearing a turtleneck sweater, sipping a latte, as they scribble away in their Moleskine journal with a gold monogrammed fountain pen, smiling to themselves as they hear the people around them whisper behind their coffee cups, “oooooh look at that writer over there…”

Like they think they’re goddamn Hemingway in 1920’s Paris.

Ok, hold on I suddenly have the urge to look at Moleskine’s website. They really do make nice stuff…..

Ok I’m back. Where was I?

Oh yeah.

But that’s not what makes you a writer. Not cafes or lattes or leather-bound journals and fountain pens or sitting around letting people see you looking like a writer. Writers write, usually alone. When I do get into that writing groove (which is unfortunately rare these days), I don’t want any contact with the outside world. It kills me to have to stop writing so I can sleep or go to work or clean my house or go grocery shopping so my family doesn’t starve to death. Back when I was single and unemployed I would stay locked inside my apartment with the blinds drawn and do nothing but write for twenty hours a day. I looked like a pasty-skinned, red-eyed, tweaked out junkie. My parents would have to come by once a week to make sure I wasnt dead and being eaten by my cat.

But I guess for some people, that image and aura of mystique is needed to feel like a “real” writer or to feel inspired to write. Maybe they’re an exhibitionist and they need that audience in order to perform. But they just come across as really fake, because while I see them doing a lot of latte sipping and a lot of iPhone checking and a lot of looking around at what other people are doing, I see them doing very little actual writing.

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4 responses

  1. You are spot on. I look at people at B&N and think the same thing. I wonder, though, why they would get dressed like Audrey Hepburn (my visual), get in their car, drive to B&N, get a coffee, sit down, and type, when I could have finished a couple of pages in my pajamas and eating corn flakes. I win.

  2. I’m not a writer, so I don’t really have an insight on the proper place a writer should work on its craft. If it is like any other activity, it must depend a lot on the individual. I suspect that in the XIX century, someone made a a blog post like this referring to a some posers that took their brushes and inks and painted outside, just to look cool.
    Do what you do, where you feel like doing it is my motto – one, among many.
    Though not a writer, I spend a lot of time on coffee-shops writing. It may seem paradoxal, but I mainly do college assignments and an occasional blog post. I look a lot around, I check my poor man’s iPhone (Android); I sip. I probably spend more time doing non-writing related stuff. Strange as it may seem to you this is what I look like when I’m fully concentrated.
    At home I simply can’t concentrate. I have my PS3 to play on, movies and shows to watch, books to read, etc. In that coffee-shop I have my laptop and my cellphone. My battery lasts about four hours. That means I can squeeze about one to one and a half hours of work out of one of those trips. It’s more than a days work.
    I’m sure that there are people who just sit there and try to look aloof and cool. But maybe most of them aren’t. It’s way to easy to just sit back and reach conclusions.

  3. Writing is not one dimensional. One can’t say “It is my way or the Hemingway!” Speaking of Hemingway I got the feeling when I read “A Moveable Feast” that he too would look over his shoulder at other writers and disapprove of their writing habits. We do so enjoy watching others fret. In the end there is no telling what makes a writer a successful one or a poser. Enjoy your writing and put it out there guilt free for the world to see. Perhaps if you like it we will too. But we may not. Then again we may just be posing as critics. I recently had leather elbow patches sewn onto my favourite cardigan. Surely that was all that was holding me back. Good work today.

  4. I don’t know how they would do it in such a busy/noisy place like that! Haha, maybe you’re right and it’s just for the image of being a writer. I know that when I have the urge or sudden inspiration to write something, I’ll usually lock myself in my room for a bit. It’s usually dark and I’ll probably have skipped a meal. Or two. But I don’t really have the time to do those kinds of things like I wanted to anymore.

    Oh well. Anyways, thanks for stopping by!

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