Writing in public feels like a performance, but, when we’re dealing with literature, the performance is not what endures

Matt Lombardi, apparently fed up with pretentious writers observes:

“Writing in public feels like a performance, but, when we’re dealing with literature, the performance is not what endures. To put it another way: the final outcome is the performance. I can’t help but assume when I see the coffice-bound writer as one who privileges persona over results.”

I am a coffice-bound (coffee+office) writer almost daily. Sometimes I go back to my coffice a second time in the afternoon. No doubt my teeth (the non-veneer ones) are yellowing. I became a coffice writer while working, the coffee shop was the only place where I could write away from the suffocation of my cubicle. I have Bose headphones that go over my ears and block out most of the sound. I prefer as much comfort and seclusion as I can find during my public writing.

There must be a lot of writers in the world to make these kinds of jokes. Too many of them. My conclusion is I dislike all other writers.

From “How to Write the Great American Novel,”


I’m actually typing this article on a blue Selectric II typewriter in a meadow filled with ducks. I have a very long extension cord. Stop asking so many questions. I’m entirely unclear who was the first hopeful writer who thought the atmosphere at coffee shops was the ideal place to get some work done. It’s loud there and people are having completely awful conversations about their boring lives. (Side note: People having conversations in public: Please make them more interesting! Who told you your lives could be so banal?) Which is not to say I don’t have coffee with me. Coffee is portable. I got my little Dwight Gooden mug and the sounds of birds whose names I don’t know and also I think a little bird crap between my shoulder blades, but I can’t reach back there. One does not paint a masterpiece on a canvas with ketchup already smushed all over it. And it’s not necessary to be in nature to write great. The only great poem I have ever written was written on the Cyclone at Coney Island. It was about God living inside a vending machine and not accepting my wrinkled dollar. It will be in my obituary. What will be in your obituary? “Saffo wrote several middle-of-the-road novels that were fatally flawed for having been written inside a crowded chain coffee shop.”

Lombardi points out Hemingway was most likely responsible for the writer writing in a coffee shop mystique. I’ll have more to say about writing in coffee shops.

But I’d like to know where you write and why?

19 thoughts on “Writing in public feels like a performance, but, when we’re dealing with literature, the performance is not what endures

  1. I prefer to write in really quiet spaces with instrumental music on. I can’t do coffee shops or anything similar…too distracting. So I typically write in my home, sometimes my office, but only when no one else is home or in a place where I can shut the door away from the noise. No distractions is the key for me.

      • I try to pick out my favorite movie soundtracks (The Social Network, The King’s Speech, The Tree of Life are two of my favorites). Sigur Ros because the lyrics are gibberish to me. Most anything classical that isn’t too busy works well too I find. I like to go on spotify to see who has created playlists with instrumental/writing music too.

  2. I would have to say to be alone in a quiet place is best as well, any music should be soft and slow tempo. That being said I have blogged a bit from noisier locations and while not preferable it was where the mood hit me and where the ideas were flowing. I don’t want to “only” be able to write where it’s quiet, that’s too restrictive. Occasionally I’ll write purposely where there are others just to assist with building concentration.
    I love the Family Guy video, that can be so true.

  3. Me? Personally? I usually write wherever I get ideas. I don’t drink coffee, so there’s no reason for me to even go to a coffee shop. Anyplace that you get ideas is a good place to write. Coffee shop? Sure, if you get ideas from public places. Usually those people are either antisocialists who go to coffee shops to do research on social life, or generally social people who love to be with people.

  4. ROFL! there are some things I can write in public, like humor pieces or non fiction essays; but seriously? It’s hard enough to write that steamy sex scene in my home office with NIN cranked, I still get emberassed sometimes. NO way I”m writing that in public! Plus, I get distracted easily enough without seeing the characters come and go inside a coffee shop. I have my coffee pot on, my music on, and it doesn’t matter what clothing I have on. I can be a bum at my desk and get more accomplished. HOwever, I always take my little notebook with me everywhere – the old fashioned kind with a pen, and have recently started using the notes ap on my phone. A new marketing strategy – teeth whitener for writers!

  5. I write in public exclusively. Lombardi says it “feels” like a performance. To whom? Well to him, of course. But why should I care how my writing location makes him feel? The only final outcome I care about is my words, and I get the most words on paper when I write in a coffee shop or bar. I’m guessing Lombardi doesn’t have small children at home…

    Oh, and instrumental/gibberish music (El Ten Eleven, Explosions in the Sky, Appleseed Cast, Sigur Ros) or something moody on repeat—the words disappear.

  6. I never wrote in public until I moved to Philadelphia and had a Starbucks across the street from me. At first I went because I had no internet access at home, but it hooked me on working at coffee shops. If I stay at home, I feel like everything in my house has to be very clean before I can start working. Then I will decide I should reward my hard work with a nap. Then it is time to make dinner. So coffee shops are great for daytime work. First, they give me coffee, which keeps me awake! Also there is a bathroom there, which I need if I’m having coffee. Third, going out forces me to put on human clothes and brush my hair. Fourth, although I don’t have to interact with humans, there are humans around me, which reminds me that I am a human. However, noise-canceling headphones are essential. I also tend to write late at night, though, and that is done on my couch, in my bathrobe. It’s okay if I stay up late. I’ll have coffee tomorrow.

  7. P.S. I think all authors who listen to particular albums while working on a book should list those in the acknowledgments section. Stephanie Meyer did that with the Twilight books. Made me look at Linkin Park, Muse, Dido, Matchbox Twenty, Verve Pipe, and Hoobastank in a whole new way. I think we can all agree that this playlist spells success. (http://www.stepheniemeyer.com/nm_playlist.html)

  8. I’m actually glad to hear that because I do that too. One to three songs on repeat per project. I used to think it was compulsive and maybe a little crazy, but if you do it too it can’t be weird.

  9. Believe it or not, I would love to be able to write at a coffee shop! There aren’t any good ones near me, they are all very hipster-y. Ugh. And even if they were sufficient, I wouldn’t really be able to use them because my ex works for the town and drives and walks around all day and I’d be bound to see him a dozen times…then my writing would get a bit violent….JK

  10. I can only write at home… in the quiet. No music, no TV, just quiet. I always have my notebook with me when I’m out so I can jot down thoughts. Rarely, I’m even inspired to write entire scenes or chapters by who and what I see when I’m out. Mostly though, it’s difficult to write in coffee shops or any other place because I’m too busy “people-watching”.

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