Thursday, December 27, 2007

Don't write at Starbucks

I’m writing this on an airplane. It’s actually one of my favorite places to work. It’s generally quiet, the alternative is watching some bad Jane Fonda/Lindsey Lohan movie, and I can now write off American Airlines as an office.

More and more it seems writers are getting out and writing in public. Thanks to laptops and ipods you don’t have to feel isolated sitting in a room, you can feel isolated sitting in a coffee shop or library.

A friend of mine writes in the produce section of Gelson’s market. Another writes on commuter trains. Several work in bars but God knows what those scripts look like.

The only place I think should be made off-limits for working on scripts is Starbucks. It is such a cliché. Starbucks is not for real writers, it’s for posers. I see these “artistes”, hunched over their laptops, determined looks on their faces, clacking away, marveling at their own brilliance and I think “what a bunch of assholes!” And then to draw even more attention to themselves they wear the writer costume – the sweater around the neck, baseball cap indoors, sandals, Blackberrys peeking out of their Levi shirt pockets. I guess their ultimate goal is impress but they obviously never heard the old joke about the Polish actress who tried to get ahead by sleeping with writers.

Visit one of our strike sites. We’re not a super cool bunch. Really, we’re not. But we don’t care. A real writer impresses with his work.

I know there are some very good writers who set up shop at Starbucks and to them I say, just go to Peete's or Seattle's Finest or Dunkin Donuts.

Banging out scripts is hard work. And if getting out in the world, getting a little stimulation and inspiration is going to help, then by all means go for it. I prefer planes, the UCLA stacks library, the Brentwood Country Mart, waiting rooms, and the beach.

Where do you write?


Rob said...

I write on your comments section.

Anonymous said...

Long time reader, first time commenter.

Panera bread -- for we have no Starbucks. Honestly, I only tried it once, and I got approached by another "writer" who asked what I was writing, let me get half a sentence out before he sat down and broke into what a masterpiece he was working on (I assume not a screenplay, but a novel).

Now, I just write at home. Or if I need to get away from the wife and kid, I go to the beach (I'm in Vermont, so this little feat can only be pulled off during the month of summer) or I go to the co-ed frat filled with geeks and gamers that let me sit in their basement, unnoticed.

Tallulah Morehead said...

I can proudly state, I have NEVER slept with a writer! That was Little Norma Desmond's rookie mistake. Of course, most actresses sleep with directors, and producers, and casting people, and craft services people, and delivery men, and gardeners (Hello Eduardo. Time to trim my verge!), and Baldwins, but never writers. I however maintained my long and legendary career (My career is completely legendary) by always sleeping with the editors! That darlings, is how you assure yourself of real longevity.

But whoever you're sleeping with purely for professional reasons, don't do it at Starbuck's. That stench! It smells like Ernest Borgnine's mouth the morning after our wedding night.

I prefer doing it at Jack In The Box, as their drive-through windows were an inspiration on how to handle my foot traffic. And so many men take the place's name literally.

Cheers darlings.

BD Johnson said...

I always thought that writers at Starbucks must have been really talented. They could write with so much distraction around them, that the ideas must have come very easily. I envied them in a way.

I find myself easily distracted. It takes me about 2 hours to get into the flow of writing, and then it can last for another 2 to 3 hours before I discover that I'm thirsty and I get up to go the bathroom.

So I sit down in my home office at the same desk and chair, at the same time of day. I find the routine helps me tune out the distractions. It has become my friend.

Malachy Walsh said...

Front room. On the surf board.

Doug Walsh said...

Normally I'm in my office writing, as I'm often simultaneously writing, going through thousands of images, and plunking down some symbols on maps (guidebooks) and I need the two monitors.

But when I can free-write as I like to call it, I often set up shop at the Zoka's Coffee shop near me. My "costume" does consist of sandals usually, but hey I've been wearing them my whole life, I'm not going to stop now. Unfortunately I can only write at the Zoka's in the late afternoon and at dinner hour for it's practically a Gymboree in there every other moment of the day.

There's a Starbucks across the street from the Zoka's but the Zoka's is a lot nicer.

Dwacon said...

I only agree with you Ken because Starbucks has the most uncomfortable seating and the most overpriced libations.

Barns & Noble or reasonable facsimiles thereof are preferable and I have had some hotties hit on me while I stare at my laptop trying to overcome the writer's block.

Good grief!

Christina said...

I write at a place called Caffe Trieste in North Beach. It's where Coppola wrote the Godfather like 30 years ago. I've seen mice there, but the locals assure me this is good - it means there are no rats. Works for me.

Andy Ihnatko said...

I spent the entire month of November (National Novel Writing Month) pretending to write a novel...after reading your Starbucks post I thought you might enjoy this entry.

The only "offsite" writing location I've ever regularly used was a nearby Krispy Kreme. It offered no WiFi distractions, it was open until midnight, and $1.79 bought me an enormous Diet Coke that'd last me for 1000 words at least.

I think I finished two or three short stories there before the Dunkin Donuts Gods unleashed the full force of their wrath against KK's incursion into the Northeast and the store went out of business. I haven't found another offsite that I could write in comfortably.

Ellen said...

I always claim I'm not a writer, but an editor and researcher, and I'd rather polish someone else's writing than do my own, and I hate being creative... but I have been blogging since April 2005 so that's writing. It's all been done at my desk at home, except for the entries written via laptop on planes and trains.

I've been meaning to figure out what this Starbucks fuss is all about. I don't usually drink coffee unless it's heavily disguised. I even researched what I could order that's non-fattening and caffeine-free. I walk past and there are all these people inside and I'm not sure exactly how to order and it looks crowded and uncomfortable, so I just walk past. And get to the next Starbucks 2 blocks away and walk past that one, too. So I still haven't done the Starbucks thing.

They probably have similar beverages at Unkind Donuts, and there are probably artsy independent places here on the Yupper West Side, but I dunno. It's very comfortable commuting from the bed to the desk and sitting around in a bathrobe and fuzzy slippers.

In a pinch, I could write at the desk of a client who's never there (I go in once a week to do actual work), in a brand-new, beautiful corporate media headquarters with a cafeteria where I also haven't figured out their beverages.

Bitter Animator said...

I love going out for ideas but... actually that's a complete lie. I have to be dragged out of the house. But if I am out, especially somewhere really boring, I find it great for ideas.

But I don't think I could write outside due to the distractions.

Ideas though, yep, out and about is good. Airports are great because there is nothing to do but wait, watch and let my mind drift.

Gail Renard said...

I live in London, England, so by the time I've found my jacket, gloves, scarf, umbrella, laptop, notes, mobbie phone and paper and pens for scribbling, I've lost most of the day so that's why I write at home; in my study under the eaves. On rare occasions, I sit in BAFTA and work but the people around me don't believe it either.

Michael said...

I do most of my writing at home. The coffee tastes better at home. I keep all the relevant journal articles on my laptop or in the computer bag. When I hit the inevitable block, I throw the frisbee for the dogs.

Ken, I would like a post on getting around writer's block.

Anonymous said...

Ditto on writers block advise! When I finally sit my considerable ass down to write, it's in my very messy, very uncomfortable combo office/pantry... only steps from my fridge, my coffee maker and my dog.

Anonymous said...

Tallulah, Dahling. Not even with Doug?

You really ought to give writers a
a shot. You know the old saying,
“Once you go hack, you never go back.” We are so needed and appreciative you could break a hip. Last Friday (Dec. 21, literally the longest night of the year) my wife and I acknowledged our wedding anniversary. It’s a strong relationship. We’ve been married 38 years, and she got pregnant both times.

I used to write at Starbucks but found the tables a little to vente for my laptop. Couldn’t just set that on my actual lap, because that’s where I like to spill my hot coffee. So now I write in an allegedly private office where I can multitask – develop concepts while the porn is buffering.

Here in Texas we usually start off by asking ourselves WWJW – I don’t have to spell it out for you do I? Where would Jesus write? The answer usually comes back anywhere he wants, but that guy was good. He could write on water. Then we go out and git us a pair of Birkenstock’s.

So now I write here exclusively in the home office. The routine is pretty much set by now. F’rinstance I’ve written one actual book. Started by painting the office. Then went outside and checked the office tires. Planted an acre of cotton, just to get that out of the way so that once I started writing I wouldn’t have to interrupt myself for anything. By that time I needed a nap, which, of course, is where I do my best creative thinking.

Incidentally, I once stopped into a Starbucks in Maine where the girl who worked there was known as a nor’ista.
No, she wouldn’t sleep with writers.

Anonymous said...

I write at home and alone, just like they said to in all those Health Ed filmstrips from high school.

Dzof said...

At home, with the cats, naked.

And at Flavours food court in 1 Utama, Kuala Lumpur, because they have plug points and nice tea at a reasonable price.

Roger Owen Green said...

I was watching CBS Sunday Morning on Wednesday (which is my wont) and I really enjoyed the story of Michael Gill, the executive who lost it all, but found himself at Starbucks. And now he's written a book about the experience that Tom Hanks has bought the rights for.
I'm guessing he didn't write it at Starbucks, though.

estiv said...

I discover that I'm thirsty and I get up to go the bathroom.

Jeez, Bruce, ick. In the words of Tim Meadows' Ladies Man, you're putting pictures in my head that I don't want there.

Tom Quigley said...

I used to be able to write at McDonalds, until every one I visited started looking like the windswept mess around a dumpster.... Was in a Starbucks in NYC back in September. The people hunched over their laptops there weren't trying to fool anyone in thinking they were a writer... Judging by the way they were dressed, they were trying to fool everyone into thinking they were an ad or PR account rep... I had on jeans and a polo shirt and was reading USA TODAY, supplied gratis by my hotel... I was trying to fool everyone into thinking I could give a damn about what was going on in the rest of the world...

Anonymous said...

An airplane is also my favorite place, the Coaster commuter train between Oceanside and San Diego and Denny's between 2:30-6:00am. It's almost a weird process trying to seek out just the right place to write. It's akin to a dog finding the perfect place to... well you know. What works, just simply works!

Anonymous said...

My day job is in mortgage banking, so I have appx. eight hours to kill, five days a week. It's so dead that my coworkers wander by and ask how the script is coming. One even reads for me.

I've trained myself to write at work while the whole world crumbles around me.

Jake Hollywood said...

tcbeI'm so lame that I actually go to Starbucks to forget (at least temporarily) about writing. Then I get there and all I see are people writing and I get pissed off, especially lately.


In the days since the strike started, I've overheard at least seven conversations that dealt with guys talking to either their agent or some producer about either selling their script or having it move into production.

I used to tell people (whenever they asked that is) that I was a car thief so they'd leave me alone and I could just sit and think. Now, though, thanks to the strike people have seen me on the line and know I'm a writer...

Which is why I never wrote at Starbucks in the first place -- I like privacy. And it's why I still write at home in my office.

Anonymous said...

In the bathroom, on my Treo, a la Whoopie Goldberg and her bathroom keyboard she plays when she sits a spell or two. :-)

Merry Christmas and happy New Year to you and yours, Ken. I'm a bit late this year. Please forgive. I'm still recovering. Hee.


blogward said...

The only writing I do at Starbucks is on the coffee mugs - "STARBUCKS COFFEE" can be obscenely modified with a permanent marker.

By Ken Levine said...

Good question about breaking through writers block. I will post on it sometime next week. I want some time to research, ask a few other writers, and put together a solid piece.

Okay, real reason, I just can't seem to get started on it.

Richard Cooper said...

I'm glad you wrote this. The poseurs are everywhere, and if you pull out your laptop near a few, you just feel dirty...

College libraries are a great place to hide out and write, and many of them allow you to bring food and drink nowadays. Some private college libraries charge a small annual fee (it's 50 buck per year at ours) and that's the cheapest office you'll ever rent. With a reference librarian at your disposal, too.

Elver said...

Actresses don't sleep with writers? Damn. No wonder WGA is on strike.

Cathy Fielding said...

On a dog-grooming table, disgused with a tablecloth, set up in the middle of my living room. Not the most inspiring place, but it does afford enough light to type by.

And it's close to the kitchen!

Anonymous said...

Nothing to do with writing (or Starbucks), but I'm kind of surprised you didn't mention Stu Nahan's death.

Did the news not make it to Hawaii, or do you just have nothing to say about him?

(I certainly don't think you're compelled to comment on everybody!)

By Ken Levine said...

I haven't mentioned Stu Nahan's passing because I worry that 90% of my readers unfortunately won't know who he is.

But the truth is Stu was a great guy. I worked with him a few years ago doing Dodger pregame coverage and found him to be a pleasure. Plus, the ballplayers all knew and liked him thus making our job infinitely easier.

My prayers and best wishes to his family, especially his wife Sandi who is an absolute treasure.

TheMuse said...

I'm with you Ken, I love writing on airplanes. I also love writing in airports. Something about observing strangers waiting to take off gets me going. Or maybe it's my obsessive love of the John Hughes classic, Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
Basically, being as far away from a refrigerator as possible is a good thing. The New York Times once did an article on writers with the illustration of a writer actually typing with his laptop in the fridge. That about sums it up.
Another fav place is Bread and Porridge in Santa Monica. Great leather chairs and ottomans, which I'm sitting on right now.

Anonymous said...

So Whoopie Goldberg has a keyboard by her abode. The things one learns here!

Anonymous said...

I write at Starbucks. I finished 10 pages of my screenplay yesterday. I rock.

Can't write anywhere else but home. Dead quiet in the early morning and that's when I try to get the words to show up.

Omnibabe said...

I go to this place, where they oblige me with a spot to plug in my laptop and wine for $20/bottle. I certainly never lack for inspiration when it comes to interesting characters.

Anonymous said...

My son used to write on airplanes, but now with the TSA and their 3 oz. liquid carry-on limit, they confiscate his spray paint cans before he can even get within a hundred feet of a wing, much less the rest of the fuselage that provides an even better canvas.

Yes I know, lame, but if you don’t get this kind of stuff out, it can gnaw at you all weekend.

JP said...

What works: trains and isolated cottages

What sucks: planes (no room) and starbucks (no atmosphere)

Anonymous said...

"It was a dark and stormy night as I entered the Starbuck's ."

One line down, rest of my novel to go.

Happy New Year one and all.

Tallulah Morehead said...

"S. Buck Short said...
Tallulah, Dahling. Not even with Doug? You really ought to give writers a a shot. You know the old saying, 'Once you go hack, you never go back.' We are so needed and appreciative you could break a hip."

Sleep with Little Dougie? Excuse me! I am a woman, no matter what you've heard. By and large, I like my men bi and large, and Dougie is neither. In any event, the last time Little Dougie had sex with a female, Lincoln was still a man and not yet a Disney robot.

Besides, is Dougie a writer when all he does his jot down my words? Which begs the question: am I a writer? No. I'm not writing; I'm dictating. There's a difference. Just ask Joseph Stalin.

I'm only 110. Hardly desperate enough yet to sleep with writers.

Cheers darling.

Anonymous said...

Hooray for David Letterman and Worldwide Pants!

Now let's hope the rest of the industry soon follows his wise example. I won't be watching Leno any time soon. (Not that I did much anyway.)

(And Buck Short, please. I wouldn't have sex with Tallulah even if she WAS a man. Have you ever had a whiff of her? Birds flying over her house fall dead even when they're 2000 feet up.)

Anonymous said...

Blackberries are so 2007. iPhones are the new blackberries.

Anonymous said...

Heh. I have to laugh at the Anon comment above this one. I just traded my old Palm IIIxe in for a Treo because someone gave it to me and because the desktop software was the same so that meant I didn't have to download or change a thing.

Blackberry what?? Am I showing my age now?


Elver said...

"Blackberries are so 2007. iPhones are the new blackberries."

Dude, it's still 2007.

Danny Cohen said...

in my bedroom or wherever pants aren't required.

TCinLA said...

I write where William Goldman said screenplays should be written: in a small room with a small window that you can't see anything out of.

Since writers are the greatest frickin' procrastinators to ever live (they're their own species homo sap procrastinatorus sitting anywhere where there is something to distract one is a great way to find an excuse not to write.

The pathetic schmucks who go to Starbucks, writers or whatever they are, are people I don't care to admit share the same universe with me.

Ricky said...

I write on the train or in the food court near my work. I like places where people are in the background.

I have gone to Starbucks a couple times to write with a friend because it was the only coffee shop open past 6 PM. Sure, we wore berets and fake pencil mustaches, but I don't think that makes us posers.

Rob said...

Ahhhh... Krispy Kreme. A great company decides to kill themselves by going public and doing a wicked 'uge expansion.

Dunkin Donuts coffee kicks Starbucks ass. Unfortunately, the only Dunkin' Donuts here is in convenience stores.

I prefer to write in my easy chair while ignoring Good Morning Kentuckiana or some such crap. The Starbucks here are so damned small, trying to write in one might be a bit of a struggle.

Barnes and Noble is a good place, and I've seen many a laptop at Borders. I always just assumed people were studying.

And by the way, my AT&T Tilt kicks your Iphone and Blackberry's ass.

Anonymous said...

So Whoopie Goldberg has a keyboard by her abode. The things one learns here!

I have a professional acquaintance who is a comic book artist, and is currently writing a digital art how-to book for DC Comics. He uses a laptop on a special stand, height set for his toilet, as he claims to have no other time to write. I couldn't do that. Read, yes. Draw? In pinch (a loaf), sure. Write? Nooo...

Anonymous said...

Since writers are the greatest frickin' procrastinators to ever live...

Rock on! That's exactly what I'm doing right now.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious how those guys actually do their dialogue. I always read it out loud (on orders of Garth Ennis) every half page or so to make sure that everything sounds as reasonable coming out as it did going in. And I don't even write for film or stage. And I worry about what the neighbors think.

I doubt Starbucks would appreciate some half-bathed wretch doing his best impression of Tourette's Syndrome next to the biscotti.

Jack Ruttan said...

In my front room/office at home. Sometimes underneath cats, who are chased away.

I need to start wearing that indoor baseball cap, or no one will take me seriously!

Anonymous said...

Are screenwriters all really as obsessed (or more obsessed) with the appearance of writing as they are with the writing itself? Are half of them preening twits who feel some great urge to write in public so that everyone will know they're writers? And are the other half cloistered in some dank room scared that someone will perceive them as preening twits?

Get a damned grip. Writing is something that ought to be done wherever it is that gets results. If that means going to Starbucks wearing a tweed coat with elbow patches, then wardrobe up and head on over. If it means welding yourself into the storm cellar for three months, then go ahead and eliminate sunlight from your life. And somewhere in there stop giving a shit about what people think about you.

I don't write screenplays, but I have to write to make a living. Sometimes I write at the Santa Barbara Public Library, sometimes I write at my mom's house, sometimes I write in the lobby of the hotel that's next to the casino where I play too much poker, sometimes I write in my truck when I realize halfway to L.A. that I've completely forgotten about a deadline, sometimes I write in my rich friend's guest house in Montecito, and sometimes I write at the Starbucks near UCSB where the parade of fantastic looking women young enough to be my daughters makes me feel even older and fatter than I am.

But mostly I write at home in my office (like I am now) with my feet up on my desk, my wireless keyboard in my lap, and there's easy access to my long list of distracting blogs. I keep the blinds shut on my spectacular view of my neighbors garage, and I usually have the TV on behind me with a baseball game, NASCAR race or old Perry Mason rerun playing in the background. Sometimes I even wear pants.

In short, I do whatever I need to do to ship product. I'm a volume producer of words and I'll grease the production line any way I can to keep the invoices going out and the checks coming in. I've got a life to live, a family to support, and that's expensive.

I can't afford to give a shit about where I write or how I look doing it. Just pay me.

Anonymous said...

Seems that I have to shut the world out to let the world in, if that makes sense. Though I can and have written amid many distractions, I'm never confident about the results. I always wonder, "How much better might this have been if I hadn't been scoping out chicks, eavesdropping, calling for refills, etc." 'Course, that's what rewrites are for.

So I almost always write at home. Occasionally, when I'm the designated driver for some friends who frequent a club in Costa Mesa, I'll drop them off, then camp out at the local Norm's, order steak and eggs, and try my hand at some old-fashioned pen-and-legal-pad writing (necessitated by my lack of a laptop). I usually give up after an hour and open a book.

Starbucks is great for meetings. I'd much rather be overheard talking with a producer about my script than be seen toiling away on it (or pretending same).

Juss_ILP said...

I am going to agree with you because I am on a "I hate Starbucks" thing right now. I went there two mornings ago and recieved funny looks because I asked for a No Foam Latte. Can you imagine? I will save you the details of how I had to talk the young man behind the counter through making it for me.

I should have followed my first insticts and gone to Carabou Coffee.

Now to answer your question, I write at school during faculty meetings.

WM said...

I am not going to tell you where I write, because it is either:

a.) boring


b.) a government secret

but I will tell you that you should have watched that Lindsay Lohan/Jane Fonda movie. It is the funniest movie about incest/rape you will ever see. And I trust you've seen them all.

Mundinator said...

Writing on a plane when you are stuck for hours and hours and hours and people bring you drinks and food without asking...I like writing like that.

Anonymous said...

Are screenwriters all really as obsessed (or more obsessed) with the appearance of writing as they are with the writing itself? Are half of them preening twits who feel some great urge to write in public so that everyone will know they're writers? And are the other half cloistered in some dank room scared that someone will perceive them as preening twits?

Short answer: yes. But only for the last thousand years or so.

Anonymous said...

Ken, is it just regular Starbucks, or those and the Starbucks Cafes at the Barnes & Noble stores? The latter has the further problem of the "B&N Magazine Reader", who monopolizes a table while checking out about six dozen periodicals, the final 59 after they've finished their coffee of the world latte (I believe the one at Lincoln Center in Manhattan has a three month waiting list for tables).

And as anyone who is a true writer knows, the real places to go with a laptop are the ones with tables near multiple wall plugs and free Wifi, since if you're living on a writer's salary, you don't have the spare chance for either a new long-lasting laptop battery or those damn T-Mobile wireless fees at Stabucks.

Anonymous said...

i write in restaurants sitting next to david mamet where he stole my idea for writing in restaurants and turned it into a book of his essays.

the nerve.

so, now that i am without a place to write without being plagiarized, can i come over to your house, danny cohen? the location sounds good and i like your dress code.


William C Bonner said...

I sit and PROGRAM on my laptop in various starbucks, tullys, or other coffee houses.

I don't want to be mistaken for a member of the writing profession. I keep my phone handy as well, in case work wants to talk directly instead of just chat on IM.

Henry V. said...

I've written in my car in a parking lot in the rain on a notebook, I've written alone at the house, but lately I've been writing at whatever Starbucks my navigator says is nearby. Only because they now have free wifi and I feel Panera's is way overpriced. But I'll write at a taco shop with wifi as well.

I doubt anyone would mistake me for a writer. In fact, I'm usually wearing my pc-repair shirt and if anything I get asked tech questions rather than ever, ever hearing the comment, "So.. you're a writer eh?". Nope, has yet to happen.

As a matter of fact, today I had to enter not 3.. but 5 Starbucks before I found one that had an open table. And even then it happened to be the table with no outlet for my laptop. WTH? What did I do to deserve karma like that? I mean, seriously.. FIVE Starbucks locations in three cities, for this? Okay, there was that one time in Mexico.. but even that shouldn't condemn me to this type of run around. But I digress.

I agree, a real writer writes wherever and whenever the inspiration hits. And the last thing I want is interruptions. Unless she's really hot, then it's ok. Even then.. she'd better be really hot to mess with my groove.

As for these posers.. whatever. I can call myself an astronaut or race-car driver or a fire-truck.. that doesn't make me one. A writer "writes" and sometimes, when Fate and the God(s) are kind.. he'll even makes a few bucks for his efforts.

Henry Velez