Writing In Public

Writing In Public

I’m sitting in a new tea cafe that just opened up in the Village with my friend Nivair, just soaking up the cafe ambiance and drinking expensive tea. I love finding new cafes and other places to write in the city, especially since my ‘old’ haunts often go sour long before I’m done with them. This has been a constant source of annoyance for me since I moved back to the city four years ago. And I am on a constant hunt for good places to chill and write.

People often ask me why I can’t write at home, and I have no good answer for them. I can rarely get in the mood at home, can rarely even work up the energy. It could be that I don’t have an office space per se — my desk and such is in the living room — but it could just be that I am odd.

I like writing in cafes and other public spaces. I like the din of other people’s voices around me, which are often mixed with music. I guess I also dig the energy. I’m not one of those people who needs to be seen writing to feel like a real writer, I just need to be out of the house.

This is not always the best idea for my wallet. Sitting in a cafe or coffee house for hours means you have to pay to justify the space you’re taking up. Unless it’s a Starbucks. I never feel guilty for taking up space in a Starbucks. With an indie cafe I want to help them stay in business so I can keep coming there to write, so I buy stuff. A whole day can cost $20 if you’re not careful.

So in addition to cafes I also seek out good hotel lobbies, and I’m pretty talented at finding them. My current favorite hotel is the Ace on 29th street. They’ve got their lobby set up for laptop jockeys like me, with a long communal table with outlets in it, which is very convenient. And since it’s a lobby, they don’t mind if you don’t eat and they’re open all night and all day. It’s pretty perfect. Except on Friday and Saturday nights.

Anyway, my obsession for finding good places to write long ago led me to create this list on Yelp, which is an adjunct to this massive list of places with free wi-fi in the city. Every time I add something new to that list and it hits the front page of Yelp I get a new compliment as more people discover it. There are a ton of people like me who need the comfort of a public place to get their work done. Or to waste time on the Internet.

How many of you are like me and need to be out of the house to write? How many of you need to be in your house to write? And how many of you are lucky enough that it doesn’t matter?

14 thoughts on “Writing In Public

  1. awww, you know I love this post! And when I was still in nyc, your list of places helped me so many times! Actually, when I was trying to look up places to write in london, your nyc list was one of the first things that came up ^^;; I cannot write in my house, I’ve never been able to do it. Or, I’ll do it under extreme deadline stress…but it’s always much harder. Home is too distracting. But if I got to a cafe, I have my food or drink all set up, I have a comfy chair in a nice corner where I can listen to the chatter…and it sort of reminds me that there’s a world outside my project, but at the same time makes me feel less alone then if I stayed locked in my house.

  2. I got into the habit of walking downtown to my favorite coffeeshop to jobsearch. Their internet was pretty bad, though– a purchase meant a code for one hour of internet, and in the time I did this, they went from cheerfully handing out renewals to furtively doing so to asking me to buy more so they could give me another. It stopped being worth it then– I don’t like the food they have, I can’t have more than one coffee drink, and while the cheapest thing on the menu is eighty cents, I don’t want a can of Coke either.

    But I did get a lot done when I was there. I needed, and still need, the separation from daily life. I have trouble not spending days at a time on the internet, not jobsearching. Walking downtown gave me that separation, and it meant I couldn’t quit for a trivial reason– it was another half-hour back. Kind of like studying at the library rather than in my dorm room in college. If leaving means going out in the cold, I’ll stay longer.

    Now I’m trying to cue myself to jobsearch with a specific tea and general guilt, but it doesn’t work as well. Sigh.

  3. In theory I can write at home or in public, but my home machine has internet access and games, and my productive writing time thereon tends to be short.

    If I’m out and about, I’m either using a notebook (rarely, but during the ceramics courses, i had one with me all the time), a thumb drive (when I had access to the university computers, which I no longer do), or the Dana. None of which have any useful game access (hey, if I’m on a computer in a lab where everyone can see me, I think it’s pretty poor form to be playing games), and only one of which had internet access. So i tend to type more steadily out of the house. I’ve begun to think of the home computer as the editing machine, because revision is so much easier on that big, private screen. Also, I still have trouble writing sex scenes in front of other people. So those get written at home.

    I don’t actually like using cafes as much as many people, though. Mainly it’s the same cost thing you mentioned, the feeling that you should justify your use of their space.

    I like food courts okay, but because I tend to mostly stop in those when pausing for a meal, I’ve grown accustomed to those being *reading* spaces. The library downtown is by far my favourite out of the house place. Well, and long bus rides.

  4. Me, I think it’s wiring. Some people need absolute silence to concentrate, some people need distraction. I need distraction. Too much silence, and I’m looking around for something to distract me. Which I can always find, when I’m at home.

    Plus, I love having all those faces to refer to when I need a new character.

    I find myself at Starbucks as often as not, living as I do within 5 blocks of 3 of them. 30 min on the subway only makes sense if I’ve got a whole afternoon free to write, which hasn’t happened recently.

  5. OK, but you have buried the lede! What is this new tea shop in the Village, where is it, and what do you think of it?

    1. If you read my twitter, you would know! but if you click the links at the bottom of the post the review is there. It’s another Argo Tea.

  6. I can write outside the house, but it’s easier for me to write at home. Partly this is because I’m just more physically comfortable sitting at my desktop than curling up with my netbook.

    I’m trying to train myself to write better in public spaces, though, because the drawback of writing at home is that it is easy to get distracted. Especially by an unclean desk. I will be consulting your list a lot in the coming months, I suspect!

  7. I love camping out at a local 24/7 coffeehouse (one of the few 24 hour places in this city), but I find I don’t get much more done there than I do at home. I probably should turn off wifi for a set period of time so I can’t distract myself.

  8. I very VERY much prefer public places for all the reasons you do, but when I have to fit my writing in-between my work and parenting and stuff it means I do often wind up working at home.

    When the weather is good enough I sit on the front porch, though, which gives me the illusion of being out of my house and away from chores that need to be done, and which gives me plenty of neighborly noises.

    Not the same, though.

  9. I’m often this way when it comes to creative stuff, I really do enjoy having the atmosphere of public spaces.

    The cheap trick I’ve found is to find a food court kind of area where you feel comfy, bring your own food, and just get to working.

    Because it’s a food court, it’s not like you’re taking up a lot of space, nor is any given vendor really paying for your space.

    The trick of course, is finding one that’s not stupid crowded, or at least, figuring when the rush hours are and not being there during those times.



    The Ace is ace. And I also enjoy libraries, although too much silence makes me antsy.

  11. I’m much more productive when I go elsewhere to write. When I’m at home, it’s too easy to be distracted by dog, cats, housework, etc.

  12. I don’t really write, but I definitely need to be out of the house to get consulting work done. I can do homework just fine at home, but paying work? For some reason I just can’t focus, even though I have a dedicated study.

    Thanks for the tip about hotel lobbies. I’ve never tried that before, even though there’s a hotel that caters to tech company business travelers about a 15 minute walk from my apartment. The newly renovated public library branch in Cambridge is also a super nice place to work — big tables with plenty of outlets, big sunny windows, comfy armchairs for when you get sick of sitting in a straight chair at a table.

  13. I’m the same way – I like to be out of my house and with the feeling that other people are working around me. Libraries are good but cafes are better!

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