A non-coffee drinker’s ode to coffee shops

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I’m not much of a coffee drinker. In fact I usually can’t stand the stuff, aside from the rare iced vanilla latte. I know, I know – blasphemy! As a writer, I’m supposed to run entirely on caffeine, ink, and more caffeine. I’m supposed to have a manically scribbled notebook in one hand and three mochas in the other, gulping them all at the same time as my late-night eyes bug out over the cups. But nope, not me.

Yet as much as I don’t care for coffee, I do like coffee shops.

Right this moment, I am typing from a multi-colored couch on the even more multi-colored patio of a little indie coffee shop. Everywhere I look there’s a new hue: teal stones border the brick floor, tropical flower-printed cushions sit on the chairs, shiny glass orbs in red and purple hang from an awning. Stained glass of every stripe from the rainbow compose the backdrop of a small stage. A fountain burbles nearby and from an antique bird cage comes the chirps of its inhabitants.

Quirky vendors like this one are great, but I’ll take a Starbucks too. I’m not a snob. There’s just something about coffee shops in general that helps nudge my creativity, and here’s why:

There’s a come-and-go energy to a coffeehouse. New people arrive, leave, arrive again – always changing but not chaotic. There’s a hum of noise and activity that is noticeable but doesn’t overwhelm—the scooping of ice, the buzz of an espresso machine, the various conversations that pool together into one seamless sound. It makes me both relaxed yet alert.

And what does all this do for me as a writer? It distracts my surface-level brain just enough for my deeper brain to work.

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One of my struggles when I’m writing is perfectionism and overthinking. When the room’s too quiet, my inner critic’s voice fills the space. With nothing else to focus on, I hone in too closely on my own words. The ever-shifting ambiance of a coffeehouse provides just enough distraction to keep my mind from thinking too much about itself, but not so much that it can’t think at all. My conscious is given something to pay attention to, so my subconscious can stretch its legs a little. At a coffee shop, that subtle pushing energy of the come-and-go customers pushes my mind along with it. I fall into a flow.

This same environment could be achieved elsewhere, but it’s not as fundamental as it is to coffeehouses. They welcome it. A culture has developed within them. (True, that culture can be a bit pretentious at times, but just ignore that guy in the beret who keeps mumbling “screenplay” to himself.) Step into any one and you’ll see regular Joes and Jills plunking away at keyboards, or highlighting textbooks, or absorbing paperbacks as they sip their cappuccinos. The people themselves have become part of the ambiance.

It also helps to simply get out of the house and see something different. That minute breaking of the norm unlocks my creative juices, gives them a little stir. As I twirl my straw around my cup, something else is twirling away inside me.

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Tell me, how do you feel about writing in coffee shops? What other environments have you found conducive to creativity?

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28 thoughts on “A non-coffee drinker’s ode to coffee shops

  1. I don’t drink coffee either and have never tried writing in a coffee house. Most of my writing is done at work where it’s quiet. I work alone. Quite different from the coffee shop atmosphere but it would be interesting to try something new.

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    • Most of the time I work alone too. When I’m in public I definitely can’t work while people are talking to me or if I’m in any way expected to interact with them, but I find it nice having people *around.* Provided they’re at a distance and I have my back to a wall so no one can peep at what I’m typing. 😉

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  2. I’ve never written a short story anywhere other than at home. Blog posts at my desk at work very occasionally. I desperately need to change things up at the moment though as I’m in a real rut – so perhaps a coffee shop experiment is needed. In fact, I’ve got just the place in mind. It can be my occasional weekend daytime treat!
    Interesting post Shannon – thanks 🙂

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    • I hope your experiment is a success! When I was struggling hard on my novel, taking it outside of my normal location did wonders. I truly believe breaking up monotony shakes up the brain in a very real way. New surroundings can stimulate sleepy neurons.

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  3. I’m kind of the opposite; I love coffee but I’m not super productive in coffee shops anymore. I used to be able to go into a local coffee shop and not leave until I was done with whatever draft or assignment I’ve got going, but these last few semesters I’ve not been able to get past the noise and into my story. I might try again. Maybe my stress-level with my professor-imposed deadlines was hindering the process?

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  4. Hi Shannon, I’m not a big coffee drinker either; I tend to order a decaf one or a tea! I’ve never tried trying to get much actual work done in that kind of environment. I think it might work well for a brainstorming session perhaps or for listening out for interesting snippets of conversation, but not sure I’d get much more done- mind you I normally have a three year old with me demanding cake!

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  5. I like to cheat and listen to coffee shop sounds while I’m writing at home. That way I don’t waste my money on coffee and cookie temptations and babysitting. I use the app Coffitivity (an app that’s dedicated to various coffee shop/diner sounds) and away I go. Although given the chance, I would much rather leave the house. If only the offspring would sit still long enough, lol. And I also prefer my coffee with as little coffee in it as possible – just chocolate and milk and whipped cream please!

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  6. OMG, I thought I was the only one! haha I love me some tea, but I HATE coffee. Love the smell though. Coffee shops are great. I don’t write in them but love to go and enjoy some apple cider or tea in the cozy atmosphere.

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  7. I actually love doing pre planning and outlining in coffee shops. Then when I actually write the scenes I go to my writers corner at home where I can be alone with my thoughts. But I’ll still go back when I get sick and just need to get out of my head.

    I found a great tiny coffee shop in Fullerton called the night owl. They have supper comfy chairs, old brick walls, and lamps instead of overhead lighting.

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  8. I love coffee but I work at my desk at home. Coffee shops in my town are WAAAY too social, and I can’t stand people looking over my shoulder asking “what are you writing?” or “what are you reading?” My creativity is stoked by walks, prompts, reading, and sometimes Muses in the middle of the night. My writing always begins with crazy scribbles in a messy old notebook. I never touch the computer until the idea has solidified a little.

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    • Ugh, that would bug me too! I can’t write unless my back is to a wall – I get way too antsy if I think someone could read over my shoulder. Fortunately at the coffee shops I go to, people generally keep to themselves.

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