The Mark Blog

Writing in Cafés

It has happened not one, not two, but four weekends in a row. It’s now fair to call it a pattern. What I’m referring to is writing in cafés. Even though there's a certain comfort in being at home with familiar things and people, sometimes I have to leave the house in order to write. At a café there isn’t laundry to fold or dishes to put away. No one is going to demand my attention and I won't get side-tracked. Okay, this demanding person is me. There’s so much to do I oftentimes rationalize little tasks (“it’s just a work email I’ll quickly respond to” or “after I tidy up the living room…”).

The café I’ve been escaping to is Charlie’s Coffee in South Pasadena. Over the past month I’ve developed a ritual of sorts and crafted rules to keep me focused:

Rule 1: Order the go-to drink; don’t waste time scanning the menu. At Charlie’s that would be a vanilla chai latte or a Café Ole (their take on it is my favorite). Order the beverage in a ceramic mug—this sends the brain the message that I’m not on the go. I’m going to stay there for a while.

Rule 2: Don’t stand around waiting for the drink to arrive. Sit down immediately. By the time the drink is ready I’m situated, if not already writing.

Rule 3: This may be the most important rule for me: Whatever I do, I leave the laptop at home. That’s right—the laptop stays at home. I slow down when I put pen to paper. Obviously, it is a bit of a pain to transcribe new writing onto the computer or enter hand-written edits, but in the long run it saves me time. I have to admit, I’ve gotten a couple of glances. Other than book readers, I haven’t seen many people writing anything by hand. It’s a sea of computers whenever I go in there.

Rule 4: No headphones. There’s something about the lull of background noise that relaxes my brain. I know most would disagree with me on this point. However, I just get too wrapped up in the headphones and the music selection and switching the tune, etc. The quiet din allows me to stay present.

Up until recently, I hadn't been consistently writing in a café for years. I realize that I’ve become a bit old school. Oh well. There’s too much other stuff to think or worry about. For example, our mid-project packet is due today. Better get back to it.