4 Tips for Crushing the Coffee Shop

A mocha latte from Thinking Cup (165 Tremont Street). 

Ever bring your laptop to Starbucks or The Diesel or Thinking Cup, primed for productivity, only to leave without having typed a single sentence?

It used to be a problem for me. I'd people-watch, I'd text, I'd read. All fun and good, but I wasn't getting anything done.

But a few years ago I adjusted my coffee-shop game plan. Now I'm much more productive.

Four keys:

1. Choose a coffee shop where you're unlikely to find familiar faces. Less fun, but you won't be scatterbrained. Your table will be more like an office.

2. Leave distractions at home. Whatever they are. Your phone, your George R. R. Martin paperback, your appetite, your guilt over not exercising. Give yourself no choice but to write, once you take a seat.

3. Start preparing the night before. First, think about what you want to write. Those moments of meditation will serve you when you first sit down. You won't be starting a draft with an ice-cold mind. Second, get to bed early. You don't want to make it to the coffee shop and get comfortable, only to fall asleep on your scone. Third, bring a handful of writing prompts. Bret Anthony Johnston's Naming the World is full of them.

4. Ditch the laptop. No laptop (and no phone) means no Facebook flirting or Twitter scanning. It also means no long breaks to "look things up." Nope. Just you, a pen, and paper. Only one thing to do -- and I don't mean doodle. Better still, you won't have to be that person asking someone "to watch" your precious MacBook Pro when you hit the restroom.

You might be concerned about the inefficiency of drafting by hand. But consider what you gain:

  • You will (eventually) have a better second draft. The process of going from legal pad to laptop requires thorough rereading and rewriting.

  • Handwritten pages are a memento of your work. In a profession where actual awards and recognition are scarce, it helps to have a tangible product to point to as a fruitful result. It's similar to how magazine and newspaper writers like to keep their best stories as clips in a scrapbook.

One last thing: There's no rule saying you must work at a coffee shop.

Not long ago my friend and fellow Grubbie Sari Boren asked via Facebook for coffee shop writing spots near the Boston Common. I mentioned Thinking Cup; but our pal Whitney Scharer had a better idea: Why not work at Grub Street's new headquarters (162 Boylston Street, fifth floor)?

That's exactly where Sari ended up writing. Emphasis on that last word.

About the Author See other articles by Ilan Mochari
by Ilan Mochari


The Writing Life

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