Yesterday morning, I did nothing but run errands. By 11 a.m., I felt my energy level collapsing, so I did what many people do when they need a quick pick-me-up—I headed to the nearest Starbucks. I was sitting with my coffee and crossword puzzle at a table in the corner, when I started to eavesdrop on the conversation going on between the two people at the tables next to mine. Well, technically, it wasn’t eavesdropping, as they were both talking loudly and their conversation was hard to avoid. Each of these people had a laptop in front of them, and each was supposedly busy creating the next great novel or television show or movie or whatever.
I have to admit that right away, I got intimidated by these two. I know that sounds silly, but people who write in public on laptops just do that to me. They seem so artsy and sure of themselves. It’s not that I can’t write in public; I worked in a newsroom for three years. That experience taught me to write in the most unusual places, such as the state penitentiary for men. I always say if you can write a story and make a deadline during a prison lockdown, you can write anywhere.
I should explain that I didn’t go to the prison because I liked the creative atmosphere. The prison was part of my beat area, so I had an obligation to go there at least once a week. Every once in a while, there was a security problem that resulted in a lockdown and my spending more time in the prison than I’d anticipated.
For all of the inmates who might have been paroled since my last visit, I just want to say that I am not making fun of you or your confinement here, and I wish to thank you for all the kind compliments about my appearance that you gave me through the years of your unfortunate incarceration.
Anyway, back to Starbucks and the intimidation factor. These two writers started to discuss dialogue and plot development and the ethical role of the protagonist, blah, blah, blah, and I started to think how boring my writing was. They were talking about creating literature, while my last assignment had been to write about the vampire craze and how it affects the retail world. It’s easy to see why I would think my work lacks excitement although I did get an invitation from a California store owner who asked me to come to her store to witness firsthand a blood-drinking ceremony. Yeah, I turned that one down. I may be boring, but I’m not quite ready to transform myself into a creature of the night.
As I sat at my table, pretending to do my puzzle, I started to wonder about these writers next to me. I wanted to ask them how they got their work done when they are surrounded by so much pastry. If I did my writing in a Starbucks, I would weigh four hundred pounds. No, I would be four hundred pounds and unpublished, because all I would do would be eat the baked goods. I wouldn’t write a word. You know what? I would be four hundred pounds, unpublished, and broke, because those pastries go for a minimum of $2.50 each. Even if I bought only one muffin a day and one cup of coffee (which wouldn’t happen if I sat there for hours at a time), that would set me back a pretty penny each week. Is there some scholarship fund I don’t know about that Starbucks provides for writers so that they will come into their stores and give it that pretentious, literary feel? As I continued to listen to the conversation next to me, the “What Kind of Writer Are You?” drama started to play in my head. Most writers have some kind of individual drama that plays inside their brains on occasion. Mine usually does a matinee and evening performance on a daily basis. This is how it can go:
Insane self: You are a waste of a writer. Look how boring your assignments are!
Sane self: Shut up! I have tons of publishing credits to my name and a book, to boot.
Insane self: Yes, but your business book will never be featured on Oprah’s Book Club!
Sane self: I don’t need Oprah! Wait … did I just say that? I’m sorry, Oprah. I do need you! Don’t be mad at me! Oh God, I think I need to switch to decaf!
Yep. It’s sad, but that is but one act of my internal play. I have another observation about the Starbucks writers: I spent an hour there, and those two writers did not write one word. Yes, they talked writer talk, but they did not do writer work. I guess I should not jump to conclusions or scoff, because every writer is different in her work routines. Really, how do I know that one of these literary minds before me might not become the next Hemingway or Danielle Steel?
Okay, I admit I read Danielle Steel—she’s my beach buddy. There’s something about the ocean that makes me want to read sex-and-violence books big-time. I’m sure Freud had a theory on it, but it’s my vacation and I can do whatever I want, so don’t judge me. There are plenty of closet Danielle Steel fans out there.
I think maybe if I give up the nonfiction writing genre, I might take a shot at romance novels. I understand that publishers have a format for these stories. They tell you exactly where in the books they want the steamy sex scenes. I could write those scenes. It probably wouldn’t be such a good idea for me to write them in Starbucks, or to use my real name, but I’m willing to give it a whirl.
After an hour in Starbucks, I left those two writers to their supposed craft. I went home to my messy, messy desk, dug through notes, put on Frank Sinatra, and began to type. I guess my routine is not that much different from the coffee shop writers’ routine after all. They have music playing in the background; I have music playing in the background. They have coffee; I have coffee. They have baked goods; I have a stash of chocolate doughnuts hidden in the freezer waiting to be devoured. What can I say? Some days, chocolate doughnuts are the only inspiration I need.