Why writing in coffee shops gives me the heebie-jeebies

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By Jessica Brodie

I love everything about coffee shops—the smells, the low hum of conversation, the clank of the machines—everything except writing in them.

I know. Weird! Writers writing in coffee shops is such a commonplace thing it’s almost expected, no?

But it gives me the creeps. I can’t stand sitting at the little tables, all in my writerly zone, only to look up and catch someone’s eye, or realize someone’s looking at me, or tune out and then panic, wondering if I’ve been pickpocketed. At the risk of sounding like a paranoid nut, I can’t seem to relax enough, feel “safe” enough, to get into my full-on creative groove.

Yet this bothers me! I go to coffee shops and look enviously around, wishing I could be like that cool girl in the corner with her ear buds and her head almost buried in her laptop, latte nearby and seemingly oblivious to the bustle of people surrounding her. I have friends who say they love writing in coffee shops specifically because the buzz of people helps heighten their own creative energy.

But in spite of years spent in a large newsroom with a sea of people around me, in spite of being able to churn out stories on deadline in pretty much any space or situation, when it comes to writing, coffee shops are most definitely not my “place.”

I think it has everything to do with my perception of safety. At home, I’ve noticed I do my best writing at the dining room table in solitude with my back to the wall, my doors locked, and my eyes able to scan the room for anything amiss. (OK, now I do sound paranoid.)

At my office, same thing—I keep my door shut, my lights out, and my body swiveled at my standing desk so I can see anyone who might possibly enter the room.

For me, it boils down to configuring my environment to one where I feel I can safely “lose control” and be fully at liberty to dive into another realm and leave my real one far behind.

I’ve been writing since I was a small child and professionally since I got out of college. Now, more than twenty years later, I find it helpful to know what works for me—and what doesn’t. While I know if I had to I truly could write anywhere (even a coffee shop!) it feels good to understand what makes me tick, because then I can maximize my time, be more efficient, and jump into my creative time more easily. I’ve come to understand when we know ourselves and recognize our triggers, both positive and negative, we can be our best versions of ourselves, enabling us to be a better servant of God, a better worker, a better parent, a better partner in a relationship, a better friend.

Self-knowledge is a good thing.

Your turn: where’s your favorite place to create (and least favorite)?

Jessica Brodie is a Christian author, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach. Read more of her blogs here, or check out her bio and fiction and journalism work here.

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