Live from St. Paul – A Writer’s Life

Monday morning writing sometimes happens far away from computer keyboards, for which my eyes always thank me. Today it’s happening at a marble-topped table in a booth at Quixotic Coffee in St. Paul, Minnesota. A quiet place on Cleveland Avenue in a quiet-ish neighborhood – at least, Monday mornings at 8:30 are quiet. Given the movie theater across the street and the strip mall around the corner, I would guess this is just a lull. It’s my first time in this coffeehouse and the coffee is fabulous. I love this large latte with four shots to jolt me awake. And I love this booth that envelopes my table with high sides of warmly-stained wood.

I’m waiting for a friend to arrive. While I wait, I think about why I don’t write at places like this much anymore. I used to, back when I thought I could figure out my own writing rhythm better somewhere not at home. Home had all the distractions I loved: my kids, my partner, my dogs, my music, my books, my garden, a landline on which friends called, snacks in the cupboard, the television. Even though I carved out a home office space, it wasn’t working for me. In my office, I always felt like the kid who was sent away to do homework while everyone else was having fun. It took me years to shed that idea.

Now, the writing does happen at home. My office that has been shaped to better hold my writer-self. The walls are painted deep orange, there are shelves of books on poetry, more poetry, creative nonfiction, fiction, and a little photography. There are notebooks full of rough drafts, NaNoWriMo pages, schedules for submissions, stuff for the journal I co-edit. My camera equipment is stashed in a black Crumpler bag, pictures of my family are scattered all over. I get excited about work in that space. Houseguests don’t get to spend the night in there unless we are out of room everywhere else. My office is sacred ground.

But there is something to be said about writing somewhere else, out in the world. It used to be pretty trendy to go write in coffeehouses, let the world know creative work was going on all around. I was always fairly self-conscious about that, preferring to find the least-conspicuous spot to sit if I were going to be writing in a public space. Once I did finally figure out how to be productive at home, I realized that was a much better fit anyway. And it occurs to me now, while I wait for my friend, that maybe the hard separation of what I do, what many writers do, from the rest of life is an unnecessary line. Writing things down, processing what I think through my keyboard or a pen, is the backbone of who I am. Sentences and lines of poems get structured in my head while I walk my dog, shower, drive, wait. This way of arranging words is never not with me.

Writing can happen anywhere. My office remains sacred and is important as the place where the final edits are done, but these coffeehouses, the park, the airport, a bar – they all hold the words and images just waiting to be used. Writers make use no matter where they are.

Make use. Happy Monday.

 

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6 comments

  1. It’s tricky to write in a coffeehouse for me. Too many distractions – all the people to speculate about, the smells, background noise. On the bright side, coffee! That I don’t have to make. The older I get the more I value my private time with my writing. But I do love meeting writer friends at the coffee shop and talking shop for hours.

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  2. I always find myself coming up with words, images for my writing when am driving somewhere alone and listening to the music I love and I find that this is when my imagination begins to kick in. I’ve always been that way since I was a child. I love to write stories , etc. I still do. But I too find it hard to write at home with the distractions all around me. I wish I had an extra room where I can use as my own office filled with things that can help me be creative in my writing. Having to pull over just to jot things down for my writing may not be a good idea . But that’s when my imagination comes to play.

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    • It sounds like you might benefit from using your phone’s voice memo function to grab those ideas when they pop into your head. Either way, pulling over to capture your ideas is not a bad thing. Neither is jotting stuff down as a habit once you get where you’re going. One of the things I’ve learned is to trust that I’ll remember the really good ideas – or they’ll morph into something better – even if there’s nothing with which to record them when those ideas come to me.

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  3. You summarize well the writer’s frame of mind, the constant gathering of ideas that morph into words and then stories or poetry or blog posts or…

    I write sequestered in my office. I need quiet. No music. No blaring TV. No interruptions.

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