I spend a lot of time in coffee shops, yet I don’t like coffee. I didn’t used to like coffee anyway. Until I spent a lot of time in coffee shops. Does that sound jittery? Blame caffeine because I’m typing these words in a coffee shop.
As a freelance writer determined, like the vast majority of Los Angeles, to pen the great American screenplay, coffeehouses have become my unofficial office. Peet’s Coffee, Panera, mom ‘n’ pop businesses like Buster’s in South Pasadena — I’ve clocked so much time in each that more than one manager has reminded me to punch out for break.
If you lack an office, if your home is too distracting, and if libraries are too deafeningly silent, then give coffee shops a try. However, don’t do so until you’ve learned the tips and tricks of the trade.
If you’re lucky enough to live within walking distance of a coffeehouse, then hit the bricks. Your back will appreciate the stroll home after hours of sitting. Trust me.
If you don’t live in walking distance then chances are you’ll park for free but have a time limit. Or you’ll pay to park and have a cash limit. Either way, you’ll have a ticking clock — just like in any good script — so take advantage of it, Jack Bauer.
Nothing will kick you into authorship overdrive faster than the threat of a ridiculously overpriced parking ticket, so use that 2 or 3-hour limit as the deadline to finish a scene. Just be sure to make note of when you parked. Otherwise you’ll find yourself arguing with Meter Maid Millie who couldn’t care less that you overcame your second act slump.
THE PERFECT SPOT
Every caffeine café has that perfect spot — the one with a power outlet, even-keeled table, comfy chair (but not too comfy), window view (but not too much of a view). It’s not directly under a speaker or directly above an air-conditioning vent. It’s the perfect spot… and every writer craves it. Once you get it, guard it with your life. The game of Coffee Shop Musical Chairs (minus the music) can be vicious, especially if you know the other players, not necessarily by name but by modus operandi.
The rom-com writer who sweetly volunteers to watch your stuff while you take a pee break? She’s faking it to poach your chair. The screenplay trend-chaser in the corner? Step out to call your agent and he’ll snag your table faster than a superhero zombie hunting vampires in a reimagined Y.A. fairy tale. And then there’s the dreaded Suitcasers.
These aspiring Ephrons and Zallians, with their rolling carry-on luggage and lack of neighborly respect, are the worst when it comes to coffeehouse culture. I once saw a guy commandeer a family-sized table just for himself, a desktop monitor, keyboard, Wacom tablet and portable scanner — the last 4 of which were implausibly pulled from a small Samsonite bag like a Merlin Award-winning magic trick.
These are the Alpha coffee shop dwellers. The ones who throw subtlety to the wind. What’s the best way to deal with a Suitcaser not sharing a table in an overcrowded place? Just throw on your Sully Sullenberger costume from 5 Halloweens ago, measure the offender’s overstuffed carry-on, invoke your best David Spade impression, and say, “Sorry. Too big for this Dunkin’ Donuts. Buh-bye.” Patrons and staff will appreciate your efforts. Or ask which airline you fly for.
BEAT THE CLOCK
As previously mentioned, parking time limits are a great way to keep your momentum going. However, they’re not the only way.
1) DON’T GO ONLINE
As obvious as this is, it’s worth repeating. Don’t go online. Ever. Not even in the name of research because that can be done when you get home.
If you absolutely must be online, for instance during a live session with a long distance writing partner, then check that the internet is working before you make a purchase. Otherwise you’re locked into your Seattle’s Best Frozen S’mores Mocha with 340 calories. (Still tastes pretty damn good though.)
2) MAKE THE MOST OF TECH PROBLEMS
One time I packed up my Mac, drove to Starbucks (the one across from the other Starbucks), set up shop, ordered a half double decaffeinated half-caf with a twist of lemon, and settled in for a productive writing session. Only then did I realize that I left my computer’s power adapter at home.
Suddenly my planned 3-hour session was reduced to the life of my laptop battery, which was already down to 57%. With speed and focus that I don’t always possess, I achieved my writing goal 90 minutes later when the battery life dropped to 12%.
So the next time you head out the door, consider leaving your adapter behind. It’ll lighten your physical load and give you less time to procrastinate.
3) WORK TOWARDS A SNACK
Hungry? Of course you are — you’re a starving artist. But hold off on eating until your pages are done. Then reward yourself with a tasty pastry. (Not to be confused with tasty pasties, which are a totally different kind of reward.)
Next we tackle the most important lesson in coffee shop writing — budget — but first I have to go punch out for break.
COMING SOON: Coffeehouse Screenwriting 102