Writing question: Do you like to write in a coffeehouse / java joint?

April 13th, 2012 by

The LAT had a nice little article the other day about Kaldi Coffee & Tea:

The cafe is narrow, with a dozen little tables and a gray concrete floor. Nothing too fancy. Nothing too shiny.

No espresso poured into designer porcelain with a dusting of organic cacao and a layer of orange-infused, textured milk. No movie stars. Or hardly ever.

But Kaldi Coffee & Tea is home to a community of dreamers who share a singular ambition: They want to be part of the movies.

Since the silent film era, people have flocked to L.A., seeking stardom. Hollywood may change, but the calculus remains the same. Chasing the elusive, living on shoestring budgets yet needing places to think and talk, write and edit.

Places like this one. Where nobody bothers you. Nobody asks you to move after half an hour. Where laptops are like coffee cups — plentiful and always in use.

Pete Merryman, a former “South Park” animator who is quietly working on pencil sketches with his wife, animator Amy Winfrey, became a regular because he was looking for two things.

“The first being really good coffee,” he says.

The second? “A really unpretentious vibe.”

That’s Kaldi. A world apart from bustling, showy cafes, it even has an address that fits: funky, down-home Atwater Village, about five miles east of Hollywood.

I have never been able to write in a public venue, too easily distracted. I need to hole up in a cave, close the door, and draw the blinds to conjure up the muses. So I’ve always been fascinated by the many writers with whom I intersect who not only like to write in public, most notably coffeehouses, but actually need to.

So a four-part question for the GITS community:

* Do you write in a public venue? If so, why? If not, why not?

* If you like to write in public, where is your very favorite spot?

* If you frequent a coffeehouse, what is it? What are its particular qualities that make it such a comfortable place in which to write?

* For LA-based writers, I would think seeing all those laptops around you opened up to Final Draft would raise your anxiety level, spotlighting how much competition you have. But if you frequent coffeehouses in LA, you must have learned how to resolve those issues. So what is your reaction to being surrounded by a sea of screenwriters?

For more of the article, go here.

UPDATE: Courtesy of Teddy Pasternak, here is a take on writing in public from “Family Guy”:

16 thoughts on “Writing question: Do you like to write in a coffeehouse / java joint?

  1. Debbie Moon says:

    I far prefer writing in private. But since I live a long way from London and spend a lot of time on trains to meetings, I do end up working on the train. Never get the same level of concentration, though…

  2. I’ve had mixed results using coffee shops, I’m a closet screenwriter, constantly worried someone I know will walk in and ask, “What’cha doin’?” That said, listening to brown noise in public places (http://simplynoise.com/) makes concentration soar. My biggest argument against coffee house writing–my addiction to my Herman Miller chair. :)

  3. Josh K-sky says:

    I live on the Eastside, so my coffee shops aren’t quite as dense with Final Draft, as, say, Insomnia on Beverly. I go to Cafe de Leche in Highland Park, LAMill in Silver Lake, Cultura Y Sabor when I have to kill an hour in Hollywood.

    I would love a room of my own where I could tape my outline to the wall etc. but my current living arrangements don’t include it. For now, I rent an office in a friend’s house about 3 miles from home (where I could actually tape stuff to the wall) but it’s only available weekdays and not too late. If coffee shops had lockers that’d be slightly better.

    Environment isn’t as important to me as routine. If I decide I’m going to write today, I can do it in a coffeeshop. Renting the office helps bolster the routine, but I have good and bad days here as well.

    And yeah, the chair thing is real — I have a good office chair at home, and a standing desk in my office. Coffee shops are good to mix it up, but I can’t do them every day.

  4. Kevin Ngo says:

    I can only write in coffee shops. There’s just something about being able to focus better when life is abuzz around me. Not to mention there’s always fun in eavesdropping on some interesting dialogue.

    I live in Vancouver and usually go to Starbucks, and I can honestly say I’ve never seen another person with Final Draft open on their laptop. Maybe they like to write at neighborhood coffee shops instead? For me, there’s just too many distractions at home – internet, video games, warm bed…

  5. AmyRButler says:

    I write primarily at coffee shops. I have two local ones I frequent, depending on if I’m closer to work or my apartment, and there are Starbucks nearby in case I need to work past 9pm. I’m trying to switch to working at the library to save money, but I do love my coffee shops.

    I’ve never been able to work at home. Even as a student, I had to leave my dorm room/house. I think because I get too restless, I’ll get up and *do* things if I’m at home. Working in a public place gives me some limitations on distractions.

    There are drawbacks to writing in public. Sometimes the coffee shops play loud obnoxious music — which is only a problem if I forget my headphones (always). Sometimes it’s cold and I don’t want to leave my apartment. I can write at home if I need to. But it usually takes a great amount of will power and a large glass of wine.

  6. chgocineaste says:

    Before moving to LA to pursue a career in the film industry, I lived in Chicago and wrote in Chicago coffee shops. It was always difficult for me to take myself seriously as a writer because I wasn’t a part of a creative community and I had no access to the film industry. The first time I walked into a cafe and saw a dozen laptops with screenplays on them, I felt like I had come home.

  7. Two things I could never do in public — Have sex and write screenplays.

  8. I have meetings with my cowriter at coffee houses. It was first at Caribou’s but the meetings were at dinner time. So we started going to Panera Bread but they close around 9:30 pm. It’s good for story discussion and idea generation but I can’t imagine writing there all the time. I have my filmmaking room which stores my equipment and my editing stuff and I write there. It has whiteboards and cork boards.

    I take that back, I needed to get out of the house one day and went to Panera, it was fairly empty and this girl got on her cell phone and I happen to be writing a high school movie. Well she became one of the female characters. Wow she talked fast and mostly about superficial stuff. I’ll thank her in the credits.

    I live in a major city in Ohio btw. I feel writing in public here would be like showing off b/c there aren’t too many writers here. I don’t like to do it except for the occasional change in venue of the house.

  9. Tom Peterson says:

    It’s been ages since I posted anything, but I had to respond to this. I have to mix it up. Sometimes home is good, that’s where I have my reference books, but then there are distractions. I’ve written in coffee shops in LA (I live in Vegas) and like chgocineaste, there was a wonderful sense of silent community that existed with so many others working on screenplays around me. Next weekend I’ll try something new and pack everything up in my Jeep (power converter, table, chair, shade structure and water) and head out into the desert for at least half a day. I’ve been wanting to do it for a while now and now I’ll have my chance.

  10. I can correct, revise, and rewrite in coffee shops, but for the first coupla drafts I have to be in my man cave.

    1. I actually live within walking distance of Kaldi, and have occasionally stopped in for a cuppa, but it’s too small to write in. My weirdness around writing in public is I want to be around people, but not too close to them. The Coffee Table, my main neighborhood coffee shop, was ideal for this, with lots of space and huge tables to spread all my writerly junk out on. However, it bit the dust last September 11, so now I have to drive out to the Coffee Table in Eagle Rock.

      1. I used to live up the street from the old Coffee Table. That place rocked. Sad to know it’s gone.

    1. Scott says:

      That’s awesome. Just updated the OP.

  11. azterimun says:

    If I get stuck, I find writing at a coffee shop or the library helps me get unstuck. I live on the west side of Phoenix where there seem to be few writers in coffee shops. I like the new indie place that opened in my town last fall. Unobtrusive music, small numbers of people, welcoming and friendly staff. Hope they can manage to stay open. Home is usually quiet–except when my husband watches TV. Like he is now.

  12. There’s a coincidence – same as #1, Debbie, (Hi!). I do a lot of train travel so I write on the train. Though I really hate the feeling of someone looking over my shoulder.

    Before Easter I had a contract in London so was on a weekly commute. I had a couple of hours twice a week. Now I have something closer to home and I’m getting nearly 2 hours writing time per day – which is great. And I always travel first class which means I get brought coffee and nibbles.

    I do find I can get into the zone when writing on the train – usually helps to have music blotting out conversations and other noise though.

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