Okay, I admit it, sometimes I go to coffee shops to write. I write in coffee shops a lot. I write in coffee shops probably more than I should considering I only work part time and can’t afford, well, anything. So, I thought I may as well write a post about writing in coffee shops. Even though I have so many notes about writing in coffee shops that I’m going to write three blog posts (but maybe only two – let’s face it, I get bored easily) all on the same subject, I still decided after about 30
seconds minutes of trying to write this post, to go out for a coffee and write down more stuff. And while I was at it, I figured that I may as well have a coffee as well. And maybe also, a sandwich.
Nothing lures me into an afternoon of writing more than being in a place which serves coffee and sandwiches all day long and I don’t have to go to the effort of actually making them myself. But apart from the sandwiches and coffee which cost a small fortune (but are totally worth it), I do actually find it useful to get out of the house to write. It’s especially helpful get out and about when I’m really struggling to think of things to write about and nothing jump-starts a flat creative battery (wtf?) like people watching. And it’s so easy to people-watch in a coffee shop and take endless notes about what people are saying and wearing and doing and none of them are any the wiser… I don’t think. If you’ve never coffee-shop-people-watched before, then I have created a simple guide on how to start just for you:
I coffee-shop-people-watch so much now, that even when I go out for coffee with friends, I struggle to focus on whatever they’re talking about in favour of listening in to someone else’s conversation or staring out of the window at people in their weird outfits wandering by.
Some people might class this as being nosey or sad or being a really crap friend, but as far as I’m concerned this is all totally valid, writery research. To prove it, I’ve ransacked my notebook for my coffee-shop-people-watching best-bits:
“An elderly woman asks if I mind if she sits at the table next to me and I say ‘no, not at all’ even though I actually do mind if she sits there, but I pretend it doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t bother me that every time she turns a page of her Daily Express, a corner brushes against my elbow, or that she coughs ever fifteen seconds, or that she’s sitting unusually close to me, or that there’s at least six other tables in here and she decided to sit next to me, or that she kind of smells like perfume bought from an Avon catalogue about twenty years ago.”
“A man in a v-neck jumper and eighties glasses with leopard print frames mucks about with his iPhone and talks to a younger guy across the table about meetings and email and youtube. Later an even younger guy, a boy, emerges from nowhere, picks up a bag from under their table and sits behind them. Then he starts playing with an iPad and I can’t work out if he’s with the other two guys. Is he their brother? A son? Then I wonder if the first two guys are having a meeting or maybe an interview? Do they all work for Apple?! I can’t work it out. Later, the two men stand and shake hands. The guy in the v-neck and eighties glasses leaves with the boy and his iPad. The other guy goes to the bathroom.”
“A man wearing a purple witch’s hat walks by on the other side of the road, dragging a large, very broken, electric fan .”
“Someone is sitting on the grass-verge on the slip road opposite. At first glance, I think that it’s two people – two people hugging. Or maybe having sex. Then whoever it is moves, and it’s actually just one guy, and a guitar case. He’s a hitchhiker. I don’t know how long he’s been sitting there – but I’ve been here for a a half-hour and no-one has picked him up yet. If I was him, I would have got bored by now and left. Oh, wait. Now he’s standing. Did he hear what I was thinking? No. That’s impossible. And also, paranoid.”
This is all excellent fodder for
my therapist novels and short stories and what not. Or at least it should be. Frankly, I forget about whatever I’ve written as soon as I close my notebook. But if I was a proper writer (like them authors what write books) I would probably use these life-type observations for my writing all the time.
So, proper writers, tell me: Do you people-watch and then use your encounters for stories? Give me some of your people-watching best bits. You know, just so I don’t look like a complete weirdo.