mabfan (Michael A. Burstein) (mabfan) wrote,
mabfan (Michael A. Burstein)

Robert's Rules of Writing #7: Skip the Starbucks

[Rule quoted from Robert's Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know by Robert Masello (Writer's Digest Books, 2005). See my original post for the rules of this discussion.]

And speaking of controversy...

Even without the accompanying essay, Masello's seventh rule is fairly understandable. Masello bemoans what he calls the Starbucks School of Writing, the idea that aspiring writers will do their best work in a crowded coffee shop. In his own experience, his best writing gets done in his office, behind closed doors. He understands the temptation to sit among a crowd when writing -- after all, being alone in one's office is lonely -- but at the same time, he sees this as a form of performance art. People who go to a Starbucks to write, he says, are doing it less to get work done and more to be seen.

Now, I know from one of his previous books on writing that he had at least one bad experience with a person writing in Starbucks. He and a friend had gone to a Starbucks to have coffee and catch up, and a writer at the next table kept asking them to be quiet. At first, Masello gently pointed out to the writer that the coffee shop was not a library, and that he and his friend had the right to have a conversation. But when the writer got belligerent, so did Masello, and he essentially dismissed the writer with a mention of Rule #7.

I can certainly understand Masello's point of view on this. People go to coffee shops for all sorts of reasons, but being shushed by the people around you is not one of them. This is an important point. If you've made the conscious decision to write in a Starbucks, you need to accept the fact that you're in a public place where the people around you don't see themselves as visitors to your office, and will not take kindly to your asking them to keep it down. If you want to write in public and expect peace and quiet, go to a library instead. And if you need the peace and quiet to write, the Starbucks is most definitely out.

But on the other hand -- I have heard of many writers, and I mean professional, publishing writers, who routinely go to a public place to do their work. One who comes to mind is kradical; I believe he does much of his work at a Starbucks near his home. I've also heard that Connie Willis has written many of her novels while sitting at a table in an independent cafe. And I too have taken advantage of a nearby Starbucks. I have to admit that I was less interested in the buzz of the cafe and more interested in exploiting their air conditioning -- but the fact is that while sitting in a Starbucks, I did manage to be quite productive, doing some writing for which I was eventually paid.

So in the end, although I understand where this rule comes from, I dismiss it. I wouldn't want writers to fool themselves into thinking that the Starbucks is the best place for them, but if it is, I wouldn't tell them to give it up. Write where you're most productive, whether that is your office, a Starbucks, or on a five-hour bus ride to nowhere.

Where do you write?
Tags: personal, roberts-rules, writing-advice

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