How Can Anyone Write in a Coffee Shop?

pyragraph coffee shops


Every now and then I will see someone doing something, and my first thought is, “Damn, that sure is cool. I wish I could do that.” For example, that guy who does those amazing chalk drawings, or people who water ski on top of other people. But it doesn’t always have to be that extreme. For example, I think playing the fiddle is pretty cool, and I can’t do that, nor can I drive a stick shift. Wish I could. I suppose if I set out and really applied myself, I could probably learn.

Another thing I’ve never been able to do is sit in a coffee shop and write. I’ve tried. I wouldn’t say I’ve ever “applied myself” to the process, but I’ve taken journals, or sometimes a laptop. I’ve ordered a drink. I’ve sat down, and said, “Hey, now I’ll be one of those people who writes in coffee shops!”

They’ve always intimidated me. Not the coffee shops, but those people who choose to write within them. I have no choice but to assume their talent far outweighs my own. Those people who so effortlessly click out blog posts while sipping coffee must have thousands of fans all over the world anticipating their every update. Those people, without doubt, have learned to enjoy the editing process, as they polish something good into something great. And any background noise or nearby conversations have zero effect on their unstoppable flow of creativity.

So, today I ordered a drink and sat down in a coffee shop. That’s where I am right now, as a matter of fact. It’s taken me almost two hours to make as much progress as I have. There is some music playing that I’ve never heard, and every time a new song comes on some part of my brain has to form an opinion about it. Behind me is a table full of well-dressed people talking about “today’s legal proceedings.” There are sounds of plates being stacked and milk being steamed. Since I am in a coffee shop, there are also a fair number of good-looking people. Girls with tattoos that lead down into their cleavage, and nice looking fellows with sideburns. Were we in a bar such people would seem dangerous, but instead they seem wholesome. On top of all that, this particular establishment has, for some stupid reason, offered its patrons free internet service.

How can anyone accomplish anything under such harsh conditions?

I’m only here because Lisa Barrow asked me to meet her. She is in my writing group, which used to meet twice a month. We would discuss one another’s brilliance and point out small ways in which to improve.

But little by little our enthusiasm has tapered off. We no longer email submissions to each other, and therefore have nothing to critique when we meet. So we stopped meeting. But this week Lisa said, “Let’s all meet at the coffee shop. Not to talk about writing, but just to write!” Lisa’s determination to constantly improve her writing is just one of the many reasons I demand friendship from her.

pyragraph coffee shops 2

So, here I am. A designated time to write. A designated place. Like it or not, here I am, and I am here to write. With all the distractions life has to offer. A man just bumped a light switch, and the light behind me went out. Just as a waitress noticed, the man turned the switch back on. The startled waitress, unaware of the man or the switch, let out a yelp and hurried back behind the counter. I can hear her asking coworkers if they, “are sure there aren’t any ghosts here,” and that, “weird things keep happening.”

I guess coffee shops aren’t all that bad. They are as entertaining as any other social setting. A good place to observe, a good place to people-watch. But when I sit in my house and write, I can write about anything. Sitting in this coffee shop, however, it’s hard for me to write about anything else. Maybe that’s why there are 75 million results when I Google “coffee shop review blog.”


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About Billy McCall

Billy has been writing and self-publishing since middle school, and isn’t about to stop now. His main realm of expertise is zines, but he has also written for various magazines and newspapers over the years, published one novel, and even writes the occasional song. Currently he is living in New Mexico with his dog and two type-writers. He considers hand-written letters to be the highest form of flattery.


  1. Jen on April 2, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    Haha I like this! I don’t think I could write in a coffee shop either. I would be totally distracted all the time.

  2. Edie on April 3, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    I totally relate. Even the writing group story. Alas — you did a fine job considering the distractions! Perhaps your brain is evolving to a more multi-task model. Plus, any writing is better than none no matter how long it takes, no?

  3. Billy on April 4, 2013 at 1:31 am

    any writing is better than no writing, I agree. But everyone has their own ways of tuning in their creative channels, and for me I just can’t get it going in a coffee shop…

  4. jillv4l on April 4, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    I used to be able to do homework or multi-task with the TV on or music playing, but the older I get the more I need (relative) silence around me to allow my thoughts to flow into words that have any depth.
    Your message triggers other thoughts for me concerning distractions. Hmmm. I think I’ll think about that some more….
    Thanks for the interesting article and for recommending this site in your latest newsletter.

  5. Tracy on June 17, 2013 at 6:34 am

    I’ve never understood how people write in coffee shops either. The music is always so loud, and I feel guilty taking up a seat for so long. I think it’s better for just observing interactions and getting ideas for dialog.
    I like the idea of meeting friend to have a writing date. Thanks for sharing!

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