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shana galen

Getting Back to Your Writing By Getting Away


The first time I ever sat down to write in a public place, I was horribly self-conscious. It seemed to me that everyone was watching me, peering over my shoulder at the words on my notepad, reading my thoughts even as I jotted them down. Needless to say, it wasn't a very productive session. I think I spent more time watching others to see if they were watching me than I did working.

But a few weeks later, I found myself writing in public again, driven out of my small apartment by a desperate need for stimulus. I told myself that even if I only wrote three words at that coffee shop, it was better than spending another minute staring at the beige wall across from my computer. Surprisingly, that second session went well, and from then on, I was hooked.

Sometimes getting away from our workspace, our routine, and those same beige walls helps us get back to our writing. Often when I feel lethargic about work, when I'm staring at my computer watching the marquee on my screen saver scroll past for the tenth time, I find that if I get up, get away, get out, I feel rejuvenated. The stimulus of a new place seems to stimulate my brain as well.

In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg has an essay titled "Writing in Restaurants" in which she suggests that "writing in a cafe can . . . improve concentration" because "the cafe atmosphere keeps that sensory part of you busy and happy, so that the deeper, quieter part of you that creates and concentrates is free to do so" (92). Writing away from your workspace, may take a little getting used to at first, especially if you're writing in an unfamiliar locale, but as the restaurant or cafe becomes more familiar, it will also become easier to tune down the distractions and just enjoy the buzzing atmosphere.

So, where are the best places to write? Any place you feel comfortable. I like to write in bookstores. I enjoy the literary atmosphere and being surrounded by the works of good writers. Now that some of the larger chains like Borders and Barnes & Noble have cafes inside, bookstores can be an ideal writing location. Many people go to coffee houses like Starbuck's to write. I've done so myself, but I'd also encourage you to seek out some of the smaller, eclectic cafes. Experiment with different venues until you find the one or two that best suit your needs.

There are a few things to consider before you pack up your laptop and jump in the car, though. First, will there be a place to plug in your laptop if your battery runs out. I often scope out possible writing locales before I go in order to determine if they have electrical outlets and where they are placed. Another thing to consider is timing. You do not want to arrive at the establishment's busiest time. It may be hard to find a table, the noise level may be too distracting, and the staff will be harried. It's better to go during a quieter time when there will be fewer customers. When an establishment is busy and people are waiting for tables, the management is also much more likely to give you subtle—or not so subtle-hints to leave. And that brings up another point. Always buy something at the cafe or restaurant where you are writing. First of all, you are using their space for several hours and they have a right to expect to make money. Secondly, the management will be far less likely to pressure you to leave. Thirdly, patronizing the establishment will help build a relationship with the staff. After a while, they will come to recognize you. You'll be a regular—the girl who always orders the caramel mocha freeze and sits at the table by the window. You'd be surprised how many perks you will get when you are a "regular."

So the next time you feel bored with your same old routine, venture out of the house to write. Consider it a field trip for your craft. Try writing somewhere new, and perhaps you will find something new in yourself as well.

Works Cited: Goldberg, Natalie. Writing Down the Bones. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1986.

© Shana Galen


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