I’ve never been one of those writers who walks into a coffeehouse to plug in her laptop and type anything publicly. As a barista in a former life, I found this act by the more established writer on extended holiday in my adopted cowboy surf town to be both bold & smug. It’s not enough to just get your coffee and run back to your elusive writer’s den (like those of us who identify a little more closely with Bukowski), they also seek an audience for their professional endeavors–even if it is just the wayward barista who secretly scribbles poetic nothings in a 3″ notebook when she ought to keep up with her side work.
Sometimes they would draw me in–these boldly public professional writers–give me the tip of the giant iceberg that sits before them on a table where anyone could wander by & read over their shoulder, or worse yet, accidentally trip with their mocha in hand. (I can rarely afford a replacement anything, so this may also factor into why I think my laptop in an establishment dedicated to liquid elixirs of any kind is a very bad idea.)
I would try to engage them as if I were merely mildly curious, and not with the sick sense of fascination I felt anytime one would stay for hours of 50 cent java refills & occasional desultory chatter with yours truly. How can you just do that in public? I always wanted to ask. But I was not bold enough to let it out, much less hint at picking the writer’s brain.
The constant threat of interruption would certainly hinder me from having a successful go at coffeehouse writing. I witnessed several quite diplomatic requests to acknowledge that the writer was “in” now, and thus not to be disturbed, to little avail. At times, I would attempt to weave my way into a conversation with the offender to take the bullet of unwanted idle chatter away from the writer in true progress. I was rarely successful. A writer at work in public in this small town may as well have a sign on their forehead that reads: “Feel free to interrupt me.”
We’re yokels. We can’t help ourselves. We want to read over your shoulder. Another reason I’m so hesitant to write in public: I confess I am the over-the-shoulder reader who’s literally waiting for you to leave your laptop open when you head to the restroom. I will absolutely read whatever’s on your screen because words are like candy to me & who doesn’t want to try another’s handmade candy, even if it still needs more sugar?
Maybe the emboldened coffeehouse writer knows all of these things: that they’re being watched like an exotic zoo animal by us country bumpkins, that there’s a chance someone will sneeze, fart or spill an entire smoothie directly on their keyboard, that someone will definitely interrupt them every day to ask what they’re doing & where that will lead them. Maybe that’s the point, all that direct risk & challenge may contribute to getting more words on the page than if distracted by all the hurdles that pop up on the way into their humble little dens.
Not every writer works the same way. My reaction to being interrupted while writing is not unlike being awakened too soon from a good afternoon nap. The moment either happens to me, my heart cries: fie, sabotage! I will likely never attempt this feat of creative exposition, for the sake of my fellow townspeople.