Coffee Shops and the Single Writer

Every Word

(Welcome to The Weekly Man, the world’s first free daily serialized coffee break novel. Click about to learn more and be sure to come back September 8 to start reading one of the strangest stories…or so I’ve been told…you’re likely to encounter. Nothing is as it seems.)

I’m a coffee shop writer. I’ve written five novels in coffee shops because they’re the only place I can write fiction. There’s something about the atmosphere and the availability of coffee that burrows deep into the headlands of my creativity and starts a stampede of words and ideas. I write for about an hour to an hour and a half each evening and get one to two pages (yep, I’m no Stephen King). Anywhere else and I might get a paragraph or two and on very rare occasions, a whole page. Surprisingly, it doesn’t matter what coffee shop or where it is…if it’s a coffee shop, the trail to the headlands is a six lane highway racing into story telling.

And yes, I’ve written about writing in coffee shops before; in fact, my last post (in my personal blog) covered some of the hurdles to overcome. But this post is about single writers who write in coffee shops and why they’re likely to remain single forever.

To begin with…being a writer is a powerful sentence to singleness in the courtroom of relationships. I mean it. Most of the writers I know are single…and not necessarily happy about it. Some have fond memories of those days when they had someone special in their lives, someone who understood them and stuck in there in spite of long hours alone while their writer mate disappeared into the jowls of a coffee shop (we’re talking just about coffee shop writers here) to do mysterious things with words. They put up with the roller coaster of moods and lifestyle that brand writers as persona non cool. They looked the other way when the writer, foaming at the mouth and crazy-eyed, tried to explain the world-shaking ramifications of not being able to find the right word to describe Sam’s blue shirt.

“Just say it’s blue,” she says.

“But how will they know the blue?” he responds.

“By the use of the word blue,” she says.

“But how will they feel the blue,” he says.

“You only feel blue when you’re sad,” she says.

“You don’t understand me,” he cries.

“You’re making a mountain out of…” she tries to say.

“You’re just like the rest of them,” he yells.

And suddenly, he’s single. And not necessarily happy about it.

The same things happen to female coffee shop writers, proving there’s no gender inequality when it comes to losing at love, especially if you can sneak a bit of the loss into a story.

There’s something about creating worlds with words that takes you out of everybody else’s world and plops you into a place that only exists in your own mind, like when was talking to a group of co-workers while I was working on my first novel. I started talking about a man called Baxter. The others looked at me in a strange way, like my head had just fallen off. One of them said, “Who’s Baxter?”

It suddenly dawned on me that Baxter was one of the characters in my novel. That’s how real he’d become and how unreal the world of my co-workers had become. Sadly, this didn’t discourage me from writing; in fact, it probably spurred me on. Something along the lines of OK, I’ve lost it with these people, so what do I have left? Oh right…Baxter and friends.

Writing is a deep uncharted pit with a shallow slope that slants ever more precariously as you slide into it. It leads into a place where a blue shirt is deep sea or sky blue, not just blue. A place where nothing is whole until the last draft, or until an editor has a better idea for blue. It’s a place where you can get lost, where you can drift away from everything that’s known into a great unknown that you get to arrange and rearrange until you’re satisfied that it’s the right color of blue.

Sound crazy?

It is. And it’s not like those writers who write at home where the better half (at least, saner half) can pop in say, “Hi, how’s it going?”

“What’s another way of saying blue?”

“Just write blue. I think people will get it.”

“You don’t understand me.”

“Don’t stay up too late.” Door closes. Writer is alone to stew in blue. Until bed time.

But for some, the coffee shop calls out to us and off we go, single and bursting with words under the brilliant azure sky.

The World’s First Free Daily Serialized Coffee Break Novel and the Onslaught of Time

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OK, so novels have been serialized in the past, most notably Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers, but not specifically for coffee breaks. The Weekly Man will be published every day for two and a half months starting September 8 with just enough reading to last for a coffee break.

I did something similar to his in 2014 with my photography. Each day for the month of October (and wouldn’t you know, it would be a month with 31 days) I posted a picture I took that day along with a story about the picture or something inspired by the picture. I thought this would be a breeze, given that I’m a photographer and a writer…just marry the two and toss out some magic.

Yeah, sure.

There’s something about needing a picture at a certain time for a certain purpose that makes that picture almost impossible to find. And there’s something about finding that picture, taking it and processing it, and then trying to write intelligently about it that seems to lodge the words somewhere deep inside your head where you can’t see them.

It wasn’t so bad for the first couple of weeks. I ventured out after work, during lunch hours and on weekends. But I had very specific rules that were meant to make this exercise something that would help me learn about both photography and writing in terms of starting with a specific objective and meeting a deadline. One of those rules was that I couldn’t take a dozen pictures on Saturday and do the writing on Sunday and have them ready to post anytime I wanted. I had to take the picture the same day it was to be posted and do the writing the same day.

I think the main lesson was never to do anything like this again…obviously a lesson I didn’t learn because here I am, doing it again, this time with my writing…and for more than double the time.

The photo gig almost drove me nuts during the last week and a few times before. There were times when I entered the last word in the blog seconds before midnight. That was one of the rules: it had to be posted before midnight each day, every day. I was astounded when I began to realize how all the little things in life can suddenly crop up to sabotage a project that has iron-clad rules.

Out of the blue, friends and family had problems that only I could solve (or listen to). I needed my car to travel to sites for the pictures. My car suddenly developed car problems. Nothing expensive, but problem enough that it ate up valuable time.

Time. I think that was the only real lesson I learned. Time seems to move slowly when you don’t need it; faster, when you need it. And it never stops. It moves forward, relentlessly, testing your ability to keep up to it.

But there were some purely magical moments, like when I walked down a road beside a river in the fall with the leaves in full color and the sun shining down. I focused down the road to capture the color and noticed that someone was on the road, walking toward me. It was a woman in black slacks and white top. I thought, great…add some human interest. I took the shot.

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As she walked nearer, I realized that I knew her, Rhonda, an enthusiastic kayaker and canoeist that I hadn’t seen in ages. There were a few surprises like that.

It also gave me a chance to do some cool portraits of artists friends, like Marilyn Masserole…in her studio, sitting on the floor in front of her, being the hippie artist that she’s been since the 60s.

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I started to realize how easy it is to find beauty all around me…if I was looking for it…even in trees without leaves.

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And I took my first horse picture ever…

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So yes, it had its ups and down, enough of both that there were moments of joy and wonder and also moments of quiet thoughts of never venturing into a project like this again.

I promise this to those who read The Weekly Man: I will have each episode published every day for 76 days and ready for your daily coffee break…even if it drives me crazy.