Sunday, April 10, 2011

Where Do You Do Your Best Writing?

I'm sitting in a great little cafe--the Stable Cafe--on Folsom Street in the city, and writing this blog entry.* What’s great is that my writing is flowing now, not like a few days ago when the words seemed stuck somewhere and wouldn’t come out.

When I taught writing, I told students to observe themselves as they wrote so that they could figure out where they did their best writing.

I discovered when I lived in Cambridge that the best place for me to write was in a coffee house. I'd go to Harvard Square to the Casablanca and write poetry. Sometimes, the Casablanca would be fairly quiet and empty, but other times, I'd be surrounded by many people, usually all strangers, telling their stories to each other, some quiet and some loud. The gossip I'd overhear might distract me from my writing, but it would usually give me a boost that helped me write.

The Stable Cafe isn’t quite Casablanca, but it’s got that same energy, that buzz that fuels writing if you like to write in public places.

Where do you do your best writing? As an extravert, I’m at my best when I’m with people. In her book, Gifts Differing, Isabel Briggs Myers wrote that “extraverts think by communicating.” The implications of the are worth considering. If you’re an extravert and you don’t have an opportunity to communicate, you can’t think. And if you can’t think, you can’t write.

For me—as an extravert—writing in a coffee house solves that problem. In one way or another, I feel like I am in communion with those who are nearby, and we communicate silently. Although I may hear everything that my neighbors are saying, I pretend that I do not. And although they—in fact—may not care at all about my act of writing, I feel that I am receiving their silent approbation and applause, and with their inherent approval, I can give myself permission to write even more.

Do you need quiet to write or do you need to be with people? The conventional wisdom is that people do their best writing when they are alone in a quiet room. But now, many people do their writing in cubicles and open spaces at work rather than alone in rooms with doors that close. Or at Starbucks or Peets…. Or with earphones or earplugs firmly implanted so that they can feel alone when they are in fact surrounded by all of their co-workers….

* * * * *

Where do you do your best writing?

*Why is it that when San Francisco natives refer to the city, they always mean San Francisco?

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