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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?


Anywhere the mood strikes me. I've scribbled fiction in meetings @ the office (in the past), at coffeeshops, on airplanes, at home in bed, at home at the desk, on a bench on Nicollet Ave. in downtown Minneapolis... Pretty much wherever. I find that it really doesn't matter -- I have the ability to shut out my surroundings...and barring that, the iPod has headphones.
I write best at a desk. In my home listening to music, or at work listening to the hum of the office. I find the idea of writing at a Starbucks intriguing because of the hot chai that I can drink without making it myself, but I really like writing in my office.
Unfortunately, I find I write best in class. A teacher's droning lecture provides perfect background noise...and it's somewhere where I have to be, so i can't get up or check email, because then I don't look like I'm taking notes....

(and no, I've never written or tuned out in one of your classes, as far as I can remember...you have a very rare knack for making learning actually interesting.)
I find that meetings are a great place for brainstorming. My brain comes up with so many cool ideas when it's trying very hard to keep itself entertained. But I've never done any writing in meetings that I can recall.
Where-ever I happen to be. *g* At my desktop or laptop, or in a notebook, or in line for a movie on the back of a napkin....
I desperately need to learn to write in more places than one, because I write in the same spot every time: on the bed, with the laptop on my lap. In my defense, it's the only place I can get the laptop and my wrists into an ergonomically good position while still having access to a phone line so I can constantly FTP backups of my work off-site. When we have money again and we get wi-fi, I'll see about getting an adjustable-height writing table so I can find other places to write that are good for my wrists. Although it's so nice to write on the bed, because so often, I'll get feline companionship :D
Actually, I've had great results working at Starbucks, but that's largely because the distractions of food, coffee, outside chatter, overhead music, and undesirable temperatures all pale to insignificance next to the mighty distraction of the always-on high-speed internet connection at home. ;)
Ditto. Home is too full of internet, phone, laundry, unread books, etc.

And at least in Spain, Starbucks is one of the only non-smoking cafés around.

Although I tend to visit the local gay and lesbian bookshop Berkana, which has a little-used café and, more importantly, a cat named Frida they rescued a few months ago...


I get far much more done when I'm there than if I stay home with all the distractions (and inherent laziness) to contend with.
Perhaps a better rule would be: If you write in Starbucks, take a walkman (or whatever), or be ready to focus through the chatter, or be prepared to leave.

I sometimes go to the Borders in our town for a few hours. Usually I write at my house, though (three different places that I haunt there). Sometimes I go to the library, but they are usually too quiet.
There are times I simply have to get out of the house in order to write (in no small part because the temptation to sit in my sweats and surf the internet is too powerful). That part of my brain understands that if I'm getting dressed and driving off somewhere, be it coffee shop, library, Mickey D's or what have you, that it's to do something, so I better damned well do it.
Because I'm the world's greatest procastinator when it comes to writing original fiction, I've learned to write anywhere, anytime (er...I don't write in business meetings and such, though). I write in a notebook on the bus or the subway. I don't like any of the drinks or stale baked goods in Starbucks but I love independent coffee shops where the noise and background buzz actually helps me focus. I write at home on my computer or at home sitting cross-legged on my bed with a notebook and pen.

The advantage to notebook and pen is: no internet. Less temptation.
It's a Starbucks in Manhattan, or an Italian café near my home. In both cases, the critical component is the set of headphones that are plugged into the laptop while iTunes runs my "writing" playlist (mostly songs by Jethro Tull, Ian Anderson, Tom Waits, Robbie Robertson, and The Band).

And, obviously, I reject the rule, too. But then, I find most "rules" of writing to be horribly subjective.....
Ah. I got the Starbucks and the café mixed up. One of these days I shall have to go to the café and see if some of that famous DeCandido luck will rub off. :-)

I absolutely agree about the subjectiveness of many rules of writing. But I've also found that people who are just starting out, and haven't learned what works yet for them, benefit from learning of others' experiences. Just so long as they don't assume that what they hear is the "only" way to write.
Sometimes I write at home, and sometimes I write in the cafe of a local Borders. Depends how squirmy (read: distractable) I'm feeling, for reasons many folk who commented "above" have already described.
In bed, at the computer, in the living room, in the car, waiting at the dentist's office, wherever a good idea happens to strike or I have time. I've gotten good work done in a café; fewer distractions than at home.

December 2016

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