This is a look back. Sometimes I look back to see where I've been to help me understand where I'm going.
Yesterday, a friend asked me why I write in a coffee shop. I shrugged back, "It works."
They were skeptical. "Isn't it too noisy?"
"Probably," I answered, because logically, it is too noisy. It wasn't about logic. The process was about what worked.
I know roughly where and when my coffee shop writing habits were born. Once upon a time, I set up an office at home, a second bedroom, where, instead of a bed, a desk looked at a wall. Bookcases loaded with novels lined the other walls, encouragement and ambiance. It looked like a place for a writer.
Might have looked like one but it didn't work for me. Before that office, my wife and I lived in an 800 square foot apartment outside Kadena AB's gate on Okinawa. My writing space was a card table stuck into the corner of the cramped, minute bedroom. The kitty litter box was underneath the table and the clothes closet was at my left elbow. Yet I wrote there, hammering things out on cheap paper using a cheap typewriter, a cold unheated place in the winter and a hot, humid cell in the summer. But that's where I first tested and honed my story telling skills.
We lived there for three years, until approved for base housing. Once there, in that comfortable new base apartment, I figured that my new space, with heat and air-conditioning and freed from the kitty litter, would witness the birth of a wonderful writing career. I also believed fiction writing was a linear process, and that I should be writing a book by outlining what was to be written, from start to finish, and then writing it.
But I found myself uncomfortable with the outline and was discovering that my process wasn't linear. I despaired that I would never make it because I couldn't outline and write a novel or story from start to finish without going back and forth, revising and re-writing. That's not how the real writers that I was reading about said they did it.
It's around then that I incorporated notebooks for writing. I used the notebook to capture the re-writes that I needed to type up in the work in progress. But after the re-writes, I found myself ready to write more but not ready to type more. A second notebook was brought in. I now began carrying two notebooks around, one used for re-writing and one used for new writing.
That part worked pretty well. I discovered that I liked working on airplanes and that I didn't like writing in rooms. I usually spread blame for writing shortcomings to the blameless rooms or typewriters but took on some for myself and my military career and its demands. I was slowly realizing that my process wasn't working.
Germany came and went as an Air Force assignment. My military career was flourishing but I wanted out to write. Yet my writing, in an office set up as a space for me to write, was abysmal and my output was lean.
Next stop, California. I discovered coffee shop writing while stationed at Onizuka AB in Sunnyvale, California. My wife read about a wonderful little town on the coast called Half Moon Bay and a coffee shop called La Di Da's. Just an hour from our home, depending upon traffic on the narrow and twisty highway that went over the hill to the coast, a Saturday outing was executed.
We were smitten. La Di Da's was too crowded to write even though I had my notebooks but I recognized an energy there that was missing at the other places where I was writing. Discovering that, I began going to coffee shops to write. I learned that not all coffee shops worked. Starbucks worked so I became a Starbucks regular on the weekends.
My military schedule hadn't allowed me to leave the base and go off to a Starbucks to write every day but I retired and discovered I could squeeze in writing time at a local Starbucks. My bosses encouraged it. Sure, go out, take a break, they told me. I would go out for an hour of writing and then adjust my schedule to ensure all the business needs were met.
Meanwhile, we'd moved to Half Moon Bay. La Di Da's had moved to a larger location across the street from its original site. Saturday and Sundy mornings found me there when they opened, ordering a scone - they baked their own sensational scones every morning before opening - and a mocha, which I would take with my notebooks to a table and eat, drink and write.
I still had a problem of typing up what I was writing. Every night would find me first at a typewriter and then at a computer, typing up what I'd writen. I'd learned and accepted that writing wasn't linear and didn't require an outline but it was a harsh schedule. My wife wanted to use the computer at night, too, and my jobs, in marketing and then as a product manager, took me on the road. My notebooks' output raced away from my typing efforts.
Buying a laptop resolved some limitations. By then I'd moved to Ashland, changed companies and jobs, and was on the road only a few times each month. The laptop went with me on my trips and I arranged my daily schedule to go to a coffee shop and write. In 2006, we moved to where we live now. A coffee shop with excellent energy and a fantastic Mexican mocha is just under a mile away. My current ritual was at last found, the best one yet.
Logic? It works logically because it works creatively. Yes, I know it's noisy but I'm usually writing in my head before I sit down at the coffee shop. I've made a lot more progress with novel and short story writing since adopting this ritual.
We moved north to Ashland eight years ago this month. While here, I finally grasped that writing needed to be for me and it needed to be fun.
That just took a few more years....
I think often of my process, comparing it with Balzac, Mitchner and Margaret Mitchell, Larry McMurty, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clark. Man, the energy and discipline they must have had, the drive and the passion.
Time to strap shoes to my feet, pack up my laptop and walk down to The Beanery. Time to write like crazy again.
Causes Michael Seidel Supports
Kiva, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Propublica.org, Doctors Without Borders, GreaterGood.com