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Writers, Do You Write At Coffee Places?

Today is Writing Wednesday on this blog, and having been holed up at home for a few days trying to write, I’m taking off to write outside. Writers writing at cafes and restaurants is a romantic notion ever since Hemingway did it in Paris, and of course others have done it before and since.

To me, the appeal of working in a cafe is watching the world go by whenever I raise my head from writing. Singapore is such a melting-pot of cultures–the three native races and then the scores of foreigners (I’m one myself)–that it is possible to come up with quirky, unusual characters.

Sitting at a (strategically-located) coffee shop I see all types–doddering, super-old Chinese aunties in their flower-printed, full-sleeved shirts and trousers that were in fashion during WW II, tall American rugby-player lookalikes carrying the grocery for their dainty, petite Chinese wives, the “ah-bengs”–young Chinese teens sporting dyed hair, tattoos and body-piercing, Indian ladies in sarees and gold jewelry with multiple shopping bags chattering in loud, Tamil-accented English as they rush past, school kids with untucked shirts, bunking classes to watch the latest martial art flick from Hong kong playing in the cinema hall above, uniformed cleaners pushing mountains of toilet paper on small carts, pretty Malay women in black headscarves held up by dazzling brooches.

I suppose some of them spot me watching from my small white table in the corner coffeshop— papers, notebooks, laptop, pens, cell-phone, teacup, tea bag and bread crumbs all around— hair tied in an oily bun (I find I write better when dressed for comfort rather than good looks) looking them up and down as they pass by, and pretending otherwise!

I guess, as a writer, though I’m part of the humanity around me, I’ll always feel a little of the outcast, or the observer. I may wallow in the mud of life like a buffalo or a hippo (ugh, right!), but at the end of the day, I’m the bird perched on the buffalo’s back, picking at things, taking notes, always taking notes.

Today, author JC Martin asks me a few questions, so please head over there after you’re done reading this post!Also if you’re here for the #writecampaign challenge, my entry (No 111) is here.

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her next literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and was published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • Damyanti says:

    Rahma, Elisabeth, Jon, Katie. thanks for the lovely comments!

    Going out is crucial to mental health, I agree, and Elisa a babysitter is a small price to pay for an afternoon of being alone in a crowd.

    Katie, that part about bookmarking my post might possibly be the most stunning comment I've ever received!

  • Katie Gates says:

    Wow, what a beautiful post! You took your writer's soul outside and you told us everything that you saw. Reading this made me realize how very long I've lived in my neighborhood and how I don't get out nearly enough. Reading this made me want to buy a laptop and a Eurail pass. Hmm… I'm thinking I should bookmark this post and read it at least once a week.

    Thank you.

    P.S. How cool is this: The word I've been asked to verify is actually a word. It is "mercy."

  • Jon Paul says:

    Cafe's are one of my absolute favorite places to write, although doing so is now an indulgence I don't get to partake in very often any more. A great source for inspiration–and helps keep from getting stuck in a rut!

    And thanks for the images from Sigapore. I haven't been there in years, but it certainly was the "melting-pot" experience you describe. 😀

  • That sounds like so much fun. I really should hire a babysitter sometime and just go have a blast writing. 🙂

  • Rahma Krambo says:

    I love changing locations to write. Getting out of the house is crucial to my mental health and I have a nice organic market with coffee/tea bar where I go sometimes to write.

    Not only is a different environment stimulating, it's helped me learn to focus my attention by having to tune out peripheral noise and conversations.

  • That is such a cool source for inspiration! I hope you are doing well!
    Take care,

  • Damyanti says:

    I'm a little under the weather, so am answering in general instead of individually…this will change next week, I promise!

    I never go to coffee-shops with internet, no starbucks or coffeebean. The local ones not only have beeter and cheaper coffee, they also dont have wi-fi which is my chief distraction:)

    Like blackanddarknight said, I also feel I paid to be there, so better produce something! And then there is no way I can do laundry or dishes in a coffeeshop, so another excuse to feel useful yet non-writing is gone!

    I don't go out to write very often, but I find revisions get done very fast when I'm out 🙂

    Like some of you have said, I too note down snippets of people's lives, and I do suspect they know it. 🙁

    I don't go out to be looked at either, hence the dressing for comfort–think sweatshirt, sneakers,messy hair, no make-up, mommy jeans!lol

    Now, am off to visit all of you back, and hope y'all have a productive writing stint, no matter where you're writing!

  • Mari Stroud says:

    I used to be able to write in any kind of chaos–coffee shops when I had the spare time and cash, but mostly college corridors–but I've since found that my ability to deal with chaos has gone completely down the toilet. I mostly load up my Kindle there.

  • If I could afford to write at coffee shops every day, I would, because I find I'm more productive when I don't have the distractions of the house all around me. There's always dishes or laundry to be done, and the temptation of the TV . . .

    Writing at a coffee shop helps me focus, because then I paid money and actually have to do something with my time there.

  • I do a lot of writing in restaurants and on the bus. When I'm working on a novel there are only a couple places around here where I'll eat lunch, because I need good light and a table big enough to hold both my lunch and my notebook (which is a spiral-bound paper notebook, not a computer).

  • M Pax says:

    If the shop doesn't have wifi, I find I'm extremely productive. A change of scenery is inspiring now and then. It's too cool to sit outside here at the moment.

  • I've never written in a coffee shop. I usually write at home – but have written in a hospital waiting room in Chicago…at a Civil War reenactment…on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and on I-65 – I was not driving at the time!

  • li says:

    Hi Damyanti, hope you're feeling better! I can't write in coffee shops or cafe; I'm too easily distracted. i do, however love to sit and watch people, and often jot down notes or ideas based on people I see, snippets of overheard conversation, etc. I suppose I am writing – it's just in my head!

  • AE says:

    I'm sure most people assume, but I don't think most of the normal non-writers out there know that we are stealing parts of their lives as we sit there "staring out into space".

  • AE Marling says:

    I can see how writing in a coffee shop can provide inspiration for characters. However, it is my preference to write at home. You see, my primary objective is to write, not to be seen writing.

  • Very true! I head over to a local coffee shop about once a week, laptop in tow. I find that I'm not looking around and spotting things I "should" be doing like I do at home. I can just sit, write, watch people, talk occasionally, write, write, write. 🙂

  • Great post! I work from home the majority of the time for my 'day job' so writing outside of the house is a necessity for me. I like to people-watch but the change of scenery also inspires me and gets my creative juices flowing – more so than staring at the same walls I'm usually looking at, anyway. A dream trip for me would be to go to New York City or Paris or something similar for a writing getaway. I'd find a nice cafe and park myself for a few hours just to write. Sounds like a great trip if you ask me!

  • MorningAJ says:

    I used to do it back in the pre-electronic days when I was a journalist and I had to phone copy in from the other side of the country.

    Find a coffee shop. Drink coffee while constructing story. Find (public) phone. Dictate copy. Take a slow route home.

    I miss that.

  • I have written outside of home, not necessarily at a coffe shop, sometimes in the dentist office, waiting in line somewhere. Coffee shop atmosphere is good for me to outline, but not to write. Notes and things, little bits of dialogue to get me going. But to really write I need to be home.

  • Joshua says:

    I can write notes, stream of consciousness type stuff in a coffee shop, but I get too distracted by the noise and the people to get anything worthwhile done. It's still fun to people watch though.

  • When I walk into any coffee shop here in Mexico (that has free wi-fi) there are computers everywhere. Because internet is so expensive, everyone takes their computers there to work. I doubt many are writers. I usually take my Kindle to Starbucks.

  • Lovely to imagine your far eastern coffe-shop working. I have written many, many books in coffee shops over the years – in Cambridge, Paris, Venice, Rome. They are the best place to write, and offer so much bustle and inspiration – especially those on the street, but also snug indoors with the wind or snow outside.

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