I’m an advocate of writing in public. I find it keeps my writing flowing pretty regularly and encourages me to hit my weekly targets, as well getting me to try out new coffee shops. Let me tell you exactly why I prefer writing in public places.
- It Gets Me Out the House
Firstly, writing in public means I have to actually get out the house and find somewhere to write – usually a friendly cafe, though I’ve employed bars and pubs as well – which gets me active and ready for some hard work. Leaving the house and walking, cycling or even driving somewhere is an ideal primer for writing; you can think about what you’ll be writing whilst you’re getting there.
Because I keep to a regular routine, my brain is trained to be at its most switched on at the same time every day. I cycle to work early and write until my working hours start, and have done so for long enough that my brain knows what’s expected of it. I think it can help to get some distance from your home too, since by its very nature the home can be a relaxing place rather than a working one. I feel that by dragging my body out and into action, I’m better prepared for writing than I would be just rolling out of bed and sitting straight at my laptop.
- It Gets Me Away from Distractions
The lack of distractions is my primary reason for writing in public though. At home I write on my laptop, which is of course connected to Wi-Fi. By extension, my laptop is connected to every bit and byte of data in the world. You know, I’ll put my hand up and admit it. I often find something in that infinite well of stuff that, for a moment, seems more interesting than my novel, and that something will lead to another something, and soon an hour’s gone by, with a forgotten Microsoft Word window buried beneath endless Chrome tabs. When I write in public I do so on my Kindle, with a Bluetooth keyboard and a Mobile Office app. Sure, it can connect to the internet, but I can never be arsed to go through the rigmarole of asking for the Wi-Fi password, and so my writing progresses distraction-free.
- It’s High Intensity (In a Good Way)
Have you ever heard of Parkinson’s Law? “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” It’s a great adage because it’s just so true, and it’s never more accurate than when you’re writing. If I get to work an hour early to write, I’ll fill that hour with anything between 500 and 1000 words. On my days off, I’ll struggle to make 300 – because I’ve got no deadline. Given a time limit, we can squish so much more productive work in than if we don’t have one, even if that idea seems paradoxical. When I’m writing outside the house, I’ll tend to get myself a coffee or an Earl Grey somewhere, and that informs my time limit. My deadline is the time at which I drain my cup and hit the road and, if I nurse my cuppa, I can push that to an hour (well… it’ll be cold by then. But I can still lurk at the table for a good 15 minutes before getting pointed glares from waiting staff).
But before you get too excited, and take to the streets to fulfil your own writing dreams, I should mention some drawbacks (and solutions) to writing in public places.
- The Soundtrack Can Be Abysmal
At present I’m in Subway in Brighton. I had a fancy for an oatmeal and raisin cookie and thought I’d tap out as many words as my Americano would allow. But the music in here is terrible; worse than Radio 1, and it’s loud. The songs all seem to be made up of non-melodic electronic clashing sounds, and the vocals are vocoded and autotuned to the point they sound like they’re coming out of a Japanese sex robot. Strangely, I’m finding it hard to immerse myself in the world of my Edwardian gothic horror to the sound of this aural backdrop, and so I started this blog post as an excuse to rant about it.
At least by writing something I’m keeping my practice up. My usual cafe plays Rat Pack kind of crooning stuff – not my usual choice, but much easier to write to. My advice: don’t make the mistake I made today. Take noise-cancelling headphones when you try somewhere new…
- Coffee = Money
There’s another drawback to writing in public of course: money. It costs money, however much or little, to fund all those coffees and herbal teas you’ll experiment with on your writing sessions. I used to write at my office’s cafeteria, and got away with bringing in a Thermos flask every day, but it’s pretty cheeky doing this at a real cafe and you’ll probably get asked to leave. I’ve moved workplace now so I can’t employ the Thermos strategy anymore, but drinks at that office cafe were pretty cheap, and it was open to the public. So these kind of establishments make for economic choices of writing venue if you can find one.
- Accidental Eavesdropping
Different places have different prices and music, but they also have different clienteles. I recently dropped into a cafe near a railway station where a cuppa cost £1 and the music was low-volume Radio 2. But no sooner had I ensconced myself in a corner than a gang of builders came in, with dialogue comprising only yeah mates and fuckin’ ‘ells. But I can’t come down too hard on them. What you come to realise is that they’ve got as much right to chat as you have to want silence – you’re in a public place after all, with all its ups and downs. I’ve slowly learned to block out chatter around me – I relapsed after two gentlemen lauded how the Beatles’ 1 album is their best (because it’s a collection of their number ones! I wanted to scream whilst beating them with my emptied Thermos. Buy Abbey Road!) – and I’m glad I have. It means I can write in almost any environment now.
Well, that’s taken me to the end of my Subway coffee and then some, but there’s no one around and I haven’t been chucked out yet. Better not push my luck though! Let me know your thoughts on writing in public places.