Sunday, March 20, 2016

Writing at Starbucks

An interesting discussion arose from Sunday’s post – whether or not to write at Starbucks. It brings up the question: where do you write and why? For you non-writers, it brings up the question: why do you go to Starbucks at all when Dunkin Donuts has better coffee?

Usually I write with a partner and most of the time we dictate scripts to our assistant while I pace back and forth with a yoyo so a public coffee house is generally not the ideal workplace. It’s bad enough when the assistant says, “No, really? You really want me to put that in?” without total strangers chiming in the same thing. But when we’re just working through a story we’ll often meet at a Coffee Bean. Yes, there’s always that danger people will think we’re just posturing pretentious writers so we counter that by wearing priest collars.

But I’m less self-conscious than most writers. That stems from two years of going to Dodger Stadium and doing play-by-play into a tape recorder in the upper deck surrounded by drunk crazed mouth breathers. After you’ve heard “Hey, look at this idiot!”, “Keep your day job, moron.”, and “Whattaya think you are, fuckin’ Vin Scully?” seven thousand times you tend to develop thick skin.

I’ve seen partners huddled over a laptop at Starbucks and don’t really mind it. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get lucky and they’ll have a big ugly fight. Those are always amusing. Plus, I always hope to one day eavesdrop on two porno writers. “So when the black guy takes her from behind I think we need a line…”
One time I saw two partners writing at Jerry’s Deli in Westwood (mercifully now defunct). But they didn’t have a laptop. They had a big desktop iMac. And a printer! When they were finished they got out two huge boxes and spent ten minutes packing it all back up. I’m surprised they didn’t also have their own fax machine and microwave.

When I’m writing by myself I usually work at home but I don’t mind getting out in the world. As long it’s a fairly quiet environment. There used to be a spot in Santa Monica called “The Office” that provided workstations and the internet and charged at least a hundred dollars a month. What a surprise that that place is defunct as well?  I go to the UCLA research library and get the same thing for free.

I also love writing on planes. It makes those 13 hour delays at O'Hare really fly.

But you do find definite types writing in these java joints. There’s always Mr. Smug -- the guy who looks off into space, as if he’s contemplating deep concepts far too complex for you to understand. From time to time he will arch an eyebrow and type in four words. Then there’s Mr. P.O.C. (Piece Of Cake) – he can’t get down his brilliance fast enough. Furiously clacking away, he can bang out ten pages an hour. It’s a pretty safe bet his script will be a P.O.C. (piece of crap). And finally, Mr. Tortured. A good day is five pages or five people feeling sorry for him.

My guess is if you write in a Starbucks that is not in LA or near NYU you will be the only one working on a script. And if you write in a Winchell’s Donuts in LA you’ll be competition free too.

The only factor important in how and where you write is what makes YOU most comfortable and allows you to do your best work – whether it’s in a Starbucks, locked in your attic, in an intensive care ward, Bob’s Big Boy, the D train, or a diving bell. One of the beauties of being a writer is that you can do it anywhere. Take advantage of that.

But leave the pipe, sweater you wear around your neck, tweed jacket with patches, and iMac & printer home. Thank you.

26 comments:

VP81955 said...

My favorite place to write away from home is the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf at Wilshire and Vermont. More and better teas than Starbucks *I don't drink coffee), easy to reach via subway or bus and plenty of outlets for my Chromebook.

B.A. said...

I used to imagine Starbucks writing was kind of a preening opportunity, hoping to be "seen" writing there. Then I heard John Swartzwelder wrote Simpsons episodes in a coffee shop so I shut up about it.

MikeK.Pa. said...

"For you non-writers, it brings up the question: why do you go to Starbucks at all when Dunkin Donuts has better coffee?"

Not being a coffee drinker I never understood the fascination over a good cup of coffee. I never liked the taste nor the smell of it. I guess I could equate to a good black-and-white shake over a mediocre one (it's the amount of chocolate syrup). I have family members and co-workers who will drink one brand and turn their noses up at others and vice versa. Doesn't matter if it's Starbucks, Dunkin', or McDonald's. I guess it's all in the taste buds.

Graham F said...

Very true. But you left out another type:the guy who can't get much writing done because he's too distracted by the cute woman in the corner who he's hoping will walk up to him and say, "What are you working on?" Oh wait, that'd be me, sorry. ;)

Steve Mc said...

In public is difficult for me. The way a line READS and the way it SOUNDS can be quite different so I like to read it out loud to hear it (the way you do when you dictate). Precise wording can sometimes be the difference that helps a joke to land. And, even though a line might be great, it may not feel right within the conversation. At the very least, it helps with some editing before having a staged reading (where I'll REALLY see the problems with the dialogue).

Mike Barer said...

Here in the Seattle area, there are more Starbucks than Dunkin'Donuts.

frank paradise said...

I'm such an old-fashioned writer I go to Starbucks just to get away from the computer so I can read books and drink overly expensive coffee. I knew I was doing something wrong. D'oh!

Breadbaker said...

@Mike Barer, there are also more McDonald's than In n Out Burgers in Seattle. For that matter, more Lenin statues than Dunkin Donuts.

I can't speak to the LA Starbucks, but I know that Starbucks as a general matter is very friendly to patrons who come in, buy one item, and stay for hours. My son recalls hanging out in the Dublin, Ireland Starbucks where you could buy a single cup of coffee and use the wifi and the restroom all day without being disturbed. There aren't a lot of places he and his friends could afford and not a lot of places that would let them do that.

Cap'n Bob said...

After I sold my first book I went to a thrift store and bought a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches. I had to do something; I don't drink coffee.

Donald Benson said...

I'm not a scriptwriter but I'm with Steve Mc on the need to read things aloud, or at least mouth them. Also, my process involves a lot of staring into space slackjawed. In public I make an effort to look cool, or at least human, so writing in Starbucks or wherever is out. Using the iPhone to look busy is another matter.

The big change for me was the laptop. Now I'm usually on the sofa with legs up, very comfortable. It's like the old days of writing notes in longhand, but way faster.

Mike said...

But the WiFi will reach outside the restaurant. So, sit outside, with laptop, upside-down hat & sign reading "Starving writer. Trying to bring back Cheers.".

VP81955 said...

A tweed jacket with elbow patches makes you look literary. Alas, it also makes you look like a Red Sox fan.

CRL said...

Yeah, like an actual writer could afford Starbucks......

Johnny Walker said...

I remember seeing a guy at the Hollywood and Vine Starbucks with a huge old fashioned typewriter. I couldn't decide if he was being really smart by stopping anyone from stealing his laptop when he went to the bathroom, or whether he was just eccentric. Probably the latter.

I'm so self-conscious at these places that I don't even have the balls to sit and work there all day. There's only so much coffee I can drink in a day... how many cups do you need to purchase to not feel guilty about taking up space in a coffee shop? (Seriously, I'd love to know.)

Has anyone ever sat at Starbucks with a single cup and been asked to leave? It seems more and more people work there for free. You see so many job interviews happening at Starbucks these days. How long before a cheeky boss houses his company at Starbucks? "Your workstation is the stool by the door. If you work hard one day you might get the comfy chair in the corner. All employees get three free coffees a day and the code to the bathroom. Please let me know before you purchase any paninis - I want the points for my loyalty card."

Wendy M. Grossman said...

One thing the Internet has enabled is meetup groups of writers who find it helpful in terms of getting stuff down on paper to be surrounded by their fellow writers. There's one such Meetup group in London that has these things going on in coffeehouses all over the region on different days and times (being Britain, you write for two or three hours and then everyone knocks off and goes to the pub).

My problem with coffeehouses these days is they play music. If I like it, it's distracting because I want to listen to it, and if I don't like it, it's distracting because I want to get the volume turned down or, preferably, off. Places like Starbucks and so on are really noisy - not just the music but the coffee machines.

In the mid-1980s, when I lived in Edinburgh, my favorite place to go was the Edinburgh Bookshop, which did cheap homemade lunches and had a pleasant clientele and no background noise. At the time, though, computers weren't portable enough to actually work there. I used to bring printouts of whatever I was up to and use the time there to mark up revisions.

I'd still like to find somewhere like that again.

wg

sanford said...

If you follow Jeff Pearlman he writes his books at all sorts of coffee places, delis, etc

D. McEwan said...

I simply do not get this practice at all. Writing is not a spectator sport, so I do not understand why one would want to do it in public. I write at home. There's my own bathroom nearby, not a public one, my kitchen mere steps away, a very comfortable chair (The one I'm in at this moment), a stereo, if I want distraction, a TV, my library is at hand, and my cat to curl up on the footrest draped across my ankles. I can not think of any reason whatever to go write in a Starbucks or a doughnut place.

Also, I do my best writing between Midnight and dawn. Nor really the best time to hit a Winchell's.

BluePedal said...

I bring my Keurig to the Starbucks and set it up. I then set up my hyperbaric chamber and get inside. I also wear my Carmen Miranda signature series fruit hat. The ideas just flow out of me - like the one you just read. The downside is the arrest record I am accumulating...

Mike said...

@Johnny Walker: So, you didn't watch the recent Tracey Ullman's Show on the BBC, where she ran that very sketch for 6 weeks.

I've often thought that someone young & trendy like yourself should be watching many more British comedy programmes and then alerting the rest of us to the good stuff.

Diane D. said...

The habit of sitting in Starbucks to write (or do other work) started in NYC for the following reasons:
1. Most people live in very small spaces. It feels very claustrophobic, especially when untidy, so most people
are dying to get out.
2. You can indeed sit for hours after ordering one coffee and never be bothered. The staff are trained not to
ever bother the customers no matter how long they stay.
3. The coffee is really good.
4. The other customers are interesting--once there was a homeless person having an expensive cup of coffee
at the table next to mine (I loved that), and on the other side an 85 year old man dressed like a 19th century
English gentleman.

Johnny Walker said...

@Mike: I did not! Damn. That's happened a couple of times to me now. But then again, it's quite an obvious setup. It literally came to me as I typed a reply, so it's not like it took much thought.

@Wendy: If you find a place like that in London, let me know. The bar upstairs in the new Picturehouse Central is quite nice... but they also pipe music in there unnecessarily loud :(

Pseudonym said...

Starbucks is the new Brown Derby.

The Big Guy said...

Wait! Jerry's Deli at Westeood and Pico is gone? I loved that place when I was working in L.A. Of course that was the last century. Guess it dropped off since I was last there.

Lonnie said...

Library is always quiet, at least the one near my home. But I'm with D. Mc. Why go out when you theoretically, have all you need at home? Dunkin Donuts coffee? Wait, you still have Winchell's in your zip? We no longer have Winchell's or DD, but yes, we do have the Lenin statue! I'd prefer John.

Steve Pepoon said...

I used to like writing on Amtrak. Spend four hours riding down to San Diego which conveniently drops you off downtown. Walk around for an hour, spend another four hours going back. Usually pretty quiet and fun to watch the landscape roll by. Cost $26 one way. Strangely, their snack bar has the best pepperoni pizza.

VP81955 said...

BTW, I entered the aforementioned CB&TO at Wilshire & Vermont, and all the power outlets have disappeared. Sorry, gang.