Writing in Public

It’s common to walk into a Starbucks, indy cafe, Barnes and Nobles/Border’s cafe and see a handful of people with open laptops typing away, scowling at their screens or sipping from a paper cup and staring off into space. Some people are kept company by a stack of text books. Others, are just there with their laptops, drink and their thoughts.

The people scouring text books between bursts of machine-gun typing get a pass. They’re obviously students escaping busy dorm rooms, or a family who would otherwise clamor for their attention. Their pursuits are admirable, and some might consider them enviable.  The rest of us, though, who have “rented” space at a table for the cost of a hot coffee or a light dinner without obvious purpose for our digital dabblings, we are the ones who get noticed. We are the curiosity in the window that draws the imagination of the world passing by. I admit to being one of them…

I can only speak for myself, but I want to part the veil for the curious and give a little explanation why hunkering down in a public place is more effective than being at home.

Now, we know that there are pretentious “artistes” who are exactly as pictured in the clip above. There are people who find the image of writing the most appealing part of the whole process from having the newest, sleekest tech gizmo they can both use and display to the persona of the tortured soul persona they portray. They sit, faces contorted in artful angst laboring as they pour out their pain while they strive to create something so beautiful it will bring the world to its knees and praise the creator like some kind of benevolent god for gifting humanity with a glimpse into their mind.

Yeah. Ok. Then, there are the rest of us.

Simply stated, for me, writing in public is a thousand times less distracting than writing at home. That statement won’t make sense to many people because writing in public means being adrift in the middle of the sea of humanity where people come and go, conversations spring up around you and the hum of activity doesn’t cease. There are some people who would find that distracting in and of itself, but for some, that’s exactly what we need to focus the inner eye towards the work and get to business.

When I sit down at my computer at home, there are a myriad of distractions that immediately bombard me. The mail on my desk that I have yet to deal with, the updates my computer reminds me about, the socks I kicked off under my desk and forgot to throw in the hamper, the coffee cup I abandoned earlier in the day or the dinner plate I just finished with that really must be rinsed off right now before the remnants of dinner get so stuck on they have to be chiseled off, the sound of my SO watching TV from the other side of the desk or interrupting me with a story/comment/question, the urge to update and reorganize my music files, my to-do list sticky, the sound of the washer and/or dryer beeping and prompting me to get up and reboot them or start the dishwasher since the laundry is finally done, the sudden need to fold the laundry that just finished in the dryer, the phone ringing, the urgent need to check and make sure I sent in my car insurance payment, the random thought to go in and check on my fantasy football team….

It’s exhausting to think about, never mind to experience and if I’m even the slightest bit resistant to the idea of writing when my butt hits that chair, each one of these distractions becomes a temptation of epic proportions. I’m amazed I’m ever able to get anything done at my desk.

I’m not a neatnik, and keeping a completely clean desk is never going to happen for me. Most of the time, I’m good about cleaning it off before I sit down to work and again once I’ve finished, but there are times I miss one or the other and the vicious cycle begins. I can usually ignore the phone, but eventually, my curiosity will win out and I’ll get up just to see who it was that called, even if I don’t return the call. Then, there’s the human factor. I cannot kick my SO out of a shared office or the house, and the TV is too shiny a distraction to easily ignore, even with the ability to drown it out with music.

Not being at home, not being anywhere near anyone who knows me and can intrude on my time, not being tempted by mundane domestic distractions, I am able to focus and get to the business of writing. I am able to redirect wayward thoughts because there’s no way I can act on them anyway except to jot down a note to deal with it later. There’s a freedom to not being responsible for your environment, and that freedom allows me to drift into creative space.

The pressures of getting to a difficult patch also ease somewhat. Instead of reminding myself that I need to sit still, ignore each temptation to get up and do something else and power through whatever has tripped me up, I’m able to draw inspiration from the environment around me. Sometimes watching the interaction of personalities at other tables, or the way their expressions and body language tell me more than the words I’m able to hear from where I’m sitting will help me get through whatever has stalled my fingers on the keyboard.

For people like me, writing in public is not about being seen, or having my personal vision of myself recognized by others, but about giving myself the space to work. Getting out of the house translates into freedom to create without reality’s responsibilities tethering your feet to the floor…which needs to be vacuumed, by the way. By sitting down in a cafe with my netbook or my iPad, I’m giving myself permission to give in and dive into the creative pool and spend as much time there as I need to in pursuit of the sunken treasure.

Imagine that the next time you see us out there. The ones who are doing their jobs for the love of it, for the passion of creation are the ones who are studying your behaviors, your movements, listening to the rhythms of your speech, or maybe just staring off into space with dreamy expressions. We’re not there to be seen, but to create enough distance between ourselves and reality so we can create a new one. We don’t care if you notice us writing, and probably won’t realize if you do….

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