Once again National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is upon us. It’s a great idea, giving would-be authors the motivation and support they need to finally tackle that novel they just know is living in their heads. Many people choose, either through convenience or necessity, to work outside their home. Coffee shops in particular are great for this, due to the fact they offer copious amounts of caffeine and a fairly quiet atmosphere.
With that in mind, I’d like to offer what I consider my top ten suggestions (I don’t quite have the balls to call them rules) for writing in coffee shops and other businesses. (Note: All of these points have come about as part of my own experiences desperately trying to work in my local coffee house during November, where I’ve seen each and every one of them happen more times than I care to count.)
- Tables at coffee shops are like prime real estate. You wanna use it, you gotta pay for it. If you’re going to be there for hours, pay your rent with more than the bottomless $2 cup of coffee.
- The servers, cooks, etc. don’t care that you’re writing a novel. They’re working, so don’t tie them up telling them all about it. You should be writing it instead of talking about it anyway.
- Free Wi-Fi at coffee shops isn’t really free; they just aren’t charging you for it. This goes back to #1. If you’re going to use it, be sure to support the business that offers it. And if you’re not using it, turn off your Wi-Fi adapter so you free up bandwidth and IP addresses for those that are.
- You will probably see many other people with laptops while you are there. Ignore them; you’re supposed to be working, too. There are any number of places you can organize and connect with other NaNoWriMo participants; the coffee shop isn’t one of them. You should be writing, not talking about it with others. Especially if they themselves are trying to write, in which case interrupting them is a perfectly valid reason to kick you in the groin.
- Remember #1? Well, it’s doubly important during peak hours such as 11-2 and 4-6, when those places that offer meal services have their rush hours. If you’re going to take up a table, make sure it’s worth their while to let you, and don’t be that guy. You know, the one who nags the employees while they’re in the weeds with multiple lunch or dinner orders about the free refill coffee being out or old.
- Be considerate of other patrons. They, like the rest of the world, don’t care that you’re writing a novel, or that you need music or movies as background noise. If you do, use good quality headphones that don’t let the sound out past your personal space, and keep the volume reasonable. If the movie you use has content someone might find objectionable, make sure it’s either not on the screen or that your computer isn’t visible to those passing by. Don’t spread out like you’re in your own living room; keep your research and notes, etc, organized so you’re not chasing paper under someone else’s table every time someone walks by.
- Don’t be a camper. Bring only what you absolutely need to work with, and nothing more. If you find you need several props, trinkets, your favorite stuffed bear, or a picture of Elvis to work, consider working somewhere private. No one wants to walk by and see what appears to be a homeless person living in booth #4. Narrow your research materials to what is germane to your work. If your research is in several different books, consider photocopying or retyping it into one document. You’ll save time this way, anyway.
- Much like tables, parking spaces are prime real estate. Don’t park in the absolute primo parking space if you’re going to be there for hours. Leave that to the customers who come in, get their order, enjoy, and leave. Trust me, lack of good parking spaces cost a business more income than bad service.
- If you’re in a coffee shop, taking up all this valuable real estate and time from the staff to work, then make sure you are ACTUALLY WORKING. Here’s a hint: Posting to Facebook or Twitter isn’t working. Checking your text messages isn’t working. Talking on the phone isn’t working. By now, you should be aware of how important it is to set aside a block of time for work anyway; it’s doubly important when you’re doing it in someone’s business. If you’re done, then settle up any tab you might have, take care of the server, and leave. Don’t sit waiting for the next idea to come to you. It’ll come no matter where you are, but in the meantime there’s no point costing the establishment that’s welcomed you in more money.
- I can’t stress this enough. Working outside your home can be expensive, if you aren’t being a dick about it. If you can’t afford to do it properly, such as patronizing the business hosting you or taking care of the servers who waited on you, please consider the public library or working from home if possible. Even the most bohemian, artist-supporting, groovy businesses in the world are just that–businesses. At the end of the day, they’re there to make money.
With that in mind, go forth and knock that first draft out! And remember, it’s perfectly okay to produce a shitty first draft; that’s what editing and rewrites are for. Just get it on paper!