Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Coffee Shops in the Morning: Advice to Young Writers

If you are a writer, live near a coffee shop. It doesn't matter if you don't like coffee. Order tea. Or a Coke. Or juice. Whatever. Just live near a coffee shop. Why? Because everyone goes to coffee shops. At least, all manner of people do. I sometimes meet the people I interview for my column in the Crazy Wisdom Community Journal in coffee shops (and tea rooms). I've overheard people being interviewed for all manner of jobs, from dishwasher to corporate. People have their first dates in coffee shops - I've had several. Also follow-up dates. I've met up with old friends I hadn't seen in years, met their children and their spouses for the first time. Coffee shops are places people go. So go! Eavesdrop. Observe.

I also often use coffee shops to write. It's important to get out of your home if you're a writer. A change of scenery can do wonders for the scene in your story. Or maybe you aren't having trouble with a story and just feel restless, or directionless. You need to move. Take a walk. Go to a coffee shop. Eavesdrop. Observe. 

It might alarm the general public to know just how much eavesdropping writers do. And if you ever find yourself wondering, mi-conversation with me, if anything you say might end up in one of my stories someday, the answer is probably. Even if it's not your exact situation and your precise problem, you're there. Your mannerisms, your turns of phrase, even, occasionally, your looks. The certain way your mouth quirks when you're amused, or how your nose turns up at the end, or how your eyes seem to change color depending on the lighting. 

Every single person I meet adds to my experiences of people in my brain. These perceptions merge and mix and new people - characters - pop out. So are my characters you? No. Are they based on you? Partly. But they are also based on everyone else we know, customers I've encountered in my jobs, people I watched on the bus or train or in traffic. And it isn't just me doing it - writers are everywhere. The person behind you in line might be a writer observing you for inspiration. Probably half the people in coffee shops are, in fact, writers all quietly observing one another. Coffee shops are like dens of thieves. Life experience thieves!

A writer's mind works differently from other minds. Take my morning at the Ugly Mug in Ypsilanti this past weekend as an example. (It was a great way to start the day!) As I sat and sipped my macchiato in the front window, I thought about the taste. How I would describe it, which words fit best and which were subpar or misleading. How did the mug feel? Warm? Too hot? Smooth? Chipped? All words. 

I observed a gaggle of cyclists in serious cyclist gear come down the street and pull into the parking lot. I thought about how I would describe that sight to someone else. What words would best capture the feeling of suddenly having a surge of cyclists in orange and black spandex, helmets, and sunglasses - serious business cyclists - suddenly flood my view, like a swarm descending? And what about the children in Sunday dresses skipping down the sidewalk across the street and the church steps, solemnly greeted by men with that day's service pamphlets, followed by their more serious parents in sedate clothing that would stand out at any other occasion that wasn't church. (I've just used the word serious an awful lot. Is there another word?) How did the light change as I sat?

That is how my mind works. Does it matter how I'd write the cyclists? Does it matter how I'd describe the little girls dresses? Or how they moved in relation to their parents? No. I don't intend to write a story about that exact moment. But that doesn't matter. It's the first thing I do when I encounter something new: how would I write this?

So my advice to younger writers is always this: Get out. Go for a walk. Go to a coffee shop. Eavesdrop. Observe. Then write.

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