Can I write anywhere?

The one that I’m getting at today is the mobile workspace and how I define whether or not it’s beneficial to leave the loving cuddles and claws of the cats to go venture out into the wide and dangerous world. You’ll hear, from starry-eyed writers and laptop nomads, that meandering to a coffee shop or a park can be a great way to juice those creative energies. Caffeine for the soul, you might say. I even mentioned how speaking into the phone while wandering around has given me bundles of extra words to mold into something approximating English.

However, all things are not equal when attempting to type while traversing away from your standard haunts. If I’m looking to break out of the office and actually get stuff done, here’s what I look for (in no particular order):

  1. Temperature Controlled – This might seem strange, but going to a park on a sunny day only works if the temp is actually at a level where you can be productive. If your computer’s going to overheat or you’re going to be dripping sweat after five minutes, perhaps it’s not the best place. We’re not going to get a tan, we’re going to write about some terrible monster from the deep!

    Similarly, if you’re wandering about in Winter, perhaps think twice about going to a place that’s too steamy, or keeps its windows open so that you’re largely numb while trying to hit the keys. In other words, be comfortable. Also avoid sitting near the doors – constant blasts of cold air will not keep you focused.

  2. Convenience – Yeah, this is a big one. Ideally you’re trying to shift locations to jostle some ideas loose. Be productive. However, if getting to your new creativity castle means sitting in traffic for two hours, then you’re probably going to lose more time than you gain. Or you’re going to get so tired getting there that you’ll have no energy left to write. I prefer places that are less than 10 minutes away, or (best) walkable.
  3. Ambience – A personal thing, but you’re going to know what makes for your best writing environment. Perhaps don’t choose the place with constant loud music blaring on the speakers. Or the one with a live band, unless those things are what gets your stories spinning. Similarly, I prefer places with a bit of eccentricity – nothing against Starbucks, but their hyper-branded aesthetic sterilizes my mind. I like enough crowd murmur to bubble in the background as soothing white noise, but not constant noisy clatter.
  4. Prices – Yep. As an artist with fluctuating income, I have to pay attention to where I’m choosing to go. That ritzy espresso joint downtown might be amazing, but if you’re paying $10-15 every time you go there (include things like parking and whatnot, and it all depends on where you live), it might not be the best call. You see all those things telling you how much you’d save if you stopped getting your grande triple hot fudge mocha – just because you’re writing when you’re there doesn’t mean that cash goes back into your wallet. Find a dive, or places like parks or libraries where you can enjoy a diverse background at no cost.
  5. Comfort – Think about it. You’re going to be sitting down for this. Do you go to the place that has the little plastic chairs because it’s funky and fun? How’s your back going to feel after a couple of hours in those? What about the cafe that’s only got couches? Or recliners? Hard to type for long in a chair like that. Are you going to be packed in with your fellow artists, rubbing elbows with other novelists as your Macbooks compete for table space? Ideally you can plop yourself down in a solid chair, have a table or counter in front of you, and sink into your own space.

That’s principally what I look for. Here in Madison, because of where I live, I tend to rotate between the following places (just to give you a taste):

  1. Crescendo – a local espresso cafe -> Delicious coffee and their scones are diet-enders. Usually hit this up once a week or so to break up the morning routine.
  2. EVP – it’s a local coffee chain, but they’ve got a spot a couple of blocks away from my house. If I need that early afternoon espresso (who doesn’t) then I’ll jaunt over there, dictate on the way over and back, and get my kicks. The tables and chair setup makes it a little harder for writing sessions than Crescendo, so I’m usually in to get the juice and out again.
  3. The back deck – it’s a bit of a cheat, but basically my shady outdoor spot when I want to enjoy the breeze. Essentially sub any nearby park for this and you’ve got it.

And there you go. I’d say it’s a benefit to any artist to have a few spots that jingle their creative bells, so if your typing’s been stale lately, go out there and find yourself a place to go.

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