Writing Sheds and Coffee Shops

Why writers should commute to work.

Do you find it easy to write from home?img_5171 If so I envy you because if you were anything like me there are often just too many distractions. I can fully understand why so many writers have famously taken refuge in a writing shed at the bottom of the garden. That means that you actually have to leave the house and go to work, even if it’s only a short trek down the garden path.

Of course not everyone has the luxury of a garden shed or summer house, or even a garden to site one in. Also, it is a proven fact that not everyone can be creative in completely quiet surroundings. We may try to create an oasis of calm in the home where we can work, but I for one, find far too many challenges both to productivity and to motivation.

If yours is a family home then it will invariably be noisy or full of interruptions. Whether you are writing at the kitchen table, dining room table, or home office desk, there is always a things to do list of household chores nagging you. There may be a favourite tv programme which cannot be missed or Facebook notifications which must be checked. Ooops. Where did the last two hours go? Heaven forbid that you should log on to your Pinterest page for therein lies the portal to a parallel universe for the entire afternoon.

Even if you can create a working environment at home, we are all prone to boredom and the need for a change of scenery. Home is indeed a good place to work on you social media strategy, do your research, update your accounts, reply to emails, or simply shuffle papers about. This is not what we are about. If we are not writing our current WIP and growing it’s word count then we may as well forget all that other stuff.

There is a solution. If home offers too many distractions, or if the fairies at the bottom of the garden have taken over the shed, then you need to go out to work. Become a commuter. There is no need to rent expensive office space either. Every high street has ideal office spaces available for the price of a cup of coffee or two and a slice of cake.

I’m talking coffee shops (or tearooms) here. Most have some unobtrusive corner where you can set up your writing haven and get down to finishing that novel. He’s lost the plot I hear you say. Coffee shops are noisy, busy places too. Surely they are just as distracting to the writer? Well actually no. It may well be down to my decades as a school teacher but I find that I work best with at least some background noise going on. As for the customers coming and going, what self respecting writer isn’t a people watcher? It’s great to glance up from the screen or the notebook to find yourself facing a whole palette of characters to inspire you. So before you rush off to the nearest coffee house let me share my five golden rules for coffee shop writing:

  1. 1898205_509569509152068_670686989_nBe a considerate customer.

Don’t upset the office landlord. The coffee shop is a business so don’t outstay your welcome or get in the way. Sitting in the prime window seat all morning nursing the same cup of coffee will soon create bad feelings, especially if you scowl or hiss at any customer who attempts to share the four seater table with you. Spend time getting to know the staff and passing the time of day with them. your friendliness will be warmly welcomed and your loyalty appreciated.

2. Be prepared

Don’t just sit waiting for your coffee to arrive while you think about what you might want to do with this precious time. Decide on your goals before you leave home and then only take with you what is needed to complete the task.

3. Connectivity

Make sure that your chosen venue has public WiFi should you need it. If the shop has it’s own social media presence then check in and post reviews. They will love you for it.

If you are using any technology you may need mains electrical power. Check if there are power sockets which you can use safely and without creating any trip hazards with trailing cables. Ask before using any power sockets too. Invariably the answer will be yes but it is just good manners and will add to your loyalty score.

4. Timing is all

If you visit the same coffee shop at different times of the day you may find the atmosphere to be vastly different each time. Trial and error will help you to choose optimum times for writing. Avoid the ‘Mummy hours’ when school aged kids have been dropped off and the mums with push chairs and babies gather  for their not-so-quick coffee and loud gossip. The creche environment is not conducive to growing the word count.

5. Motivational Buddies

Writing is often more fun if the time and space are shared with a Getting It Done (GID) buddy. This also needs careful management so I would suggest a ninety minute session where you order coffee and catch up for 15 minutes. Then get your heads down and write for an hour. After that yo should reward yourselves with another coffee and a slice of cake while you compare notes. Ninety minutes well spent.

One final observation based on personal experience. Be open and honest with the staff about what you are doing. When I first started writing in a coffee shop I quickly became a focus of attention for all the staff. The customer service was amazing but I used to chuckle at their attempts to read over my shoulder. It never occurred to me how stressful my presence had become until one of them plucked up enough courage to ask if I was a restaurant inspector!

T. J. Masters publishes through Dreamspinner press and his latest novel Bear Among The Books is available now.


7 Responses

  1. mztikicat
    mztikicat at |

    LOL…..a restaurant inspector. Great post, and really looking forward to reading Bear Among the Books.

    1. Tim
      Tim at |

      Many thanks. Yes they still laugh about that one!

  2. nicki442
    nicki442 at |

    I can absolutely relate about Pinterest. A portal to a parallel universe it certainly is! I’ve lost entire afternoons there.

    I’m the sort that basically writes almost anywhere; at home, in the car while waiting for my son’s school bus, in the park, at the library. Almost anyplace where I can read I can also write, if I have my supplies in my handy-dandy tote bag. Otherwise, reading the paperback in my purse it is.

  3. Tim
    Tim at |

    I agree with you there. As a writer you can never be sure where or when the urge will come upon you and writing sessions are often stolen moments rather that carefully planned hours.

  4. Helena Stone
    Helena Stone at |

    Great post, but I have another suggestion. Most if not all public libraries provide free wifi, power sockets, tables and chairs and whatever else you might need to write. Besides, what’s more inspiring to write in than a whole building dedicated to books?

  5. Tim
    Tim at |

    I agree and I think that needs a blog post all of its own.

  6. Blaine D. Arden
    Blaine D. Arden at |

    For me it’s give or take…
    I’m perfectly capable of distracting myself both at home and outside home. Otoh, it’s shockingly easy for me to pretend there are no household chores to be done (not counting grocery shopping)

    At home it’s mostly silent in the mornings, so perfect for me to work. I love Windows 10’s multiple desktops to separate my online life and work life. But yes, social media can be a distraction. TV only becomes one when something like the Olympics are one (I mostly tape anything I want to see and space them out for my breakfast and lunch breaks). Some of my most rhythm breaking ‘distractions’ can be the kids needing something (Yay for having too many legal adults in the house), the dog whining to go in/out, or just to let me know she’s missing the hubs, and unexpected phonecalls and appointments.

    As for working in cafés or libraries…
    I like it, as change of venue. But unless it’s an empty room, it doesn’t boost my productivity.
    Noise can be very distracting to me. I tend to notice ‘everything’, which can make it very hard to concentrate on what I’m doing. I don’t have the hubs’ ability to hermetically seal himself off when he’s working on his laptop, alas. (I sometimes can barely even read in the train anymore).
    And sound is not the only distracting thing. I used to go to my local library cum community center once a week to work there all morning. It’s reasonably quiet there. But… they host groups and classes as well, and one morning, the person arranging the coffee/tea for those groups couldn’t remember how many people had arrived, and asked me if I knew… *sigh* All I had to do was recall who came into which entrance. So… err… yeah, people watching is more a distraction than anything else.

    At home I have the freedom to put on my noise reduction headphones when I want to concentrate. But I’d feel too silly wearing those when I’m out. At home, I have a pomodoro timer on my screen (which makes a ticking sound that I don’t always here), and I have an app on my phone as well, but I need to wear headphones when I’m out, because I don’t want to disturb others with the sounds of either the ticking, or the break/work announcements)

    So, for me, it’s not something I can do every day. But I do love it in a change of venue sense 🙂

    I’d love a shed in the garden, though 😉


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