Saturday, January 3, 2009

Is Starbucks For Me?

Last Sunday I had some rare time to myself. The day started with friends and brunch at First Watch (amazing food! If there's one near you, you have to go!). I did some shopping and browsing at a few favorite places, and then, because there was nothing to stop me, I carried my copy of On Writing and a notebook into Starbucks, ordered, and claimed a table.

You know what I learned?

I'm too distractable to spend any lengthy amount of time in Starbucks. Sure, I love the idea of losing myself in a book, or crafting a handwritten masterpiece. Taking a break to sip my delicious coffee and then losing myself all over again.

But other people are there. There's a part of me that wonders what will they order? (And then the inevitable, Mmm, that sounds gooood, why didn't I order that?) What are they doing today? What's their name? Do I look ridiculously obvious, sitting here with my writing stuff?

There are windows to look out from, decor to weigh in on, interactions to soak up. And then, when a few young girls who haven't seen each other in months swoop into the store, giggly and high-pitched and loud, talking about someone's engagement, well? How am I supposed to concentrate?

I guess I enjoy the experience of my space at home best. Settling in at my desk or reading chair, into that familiar comfort.

Oh, I'll go back to Starbucks. I know I will. (I still have a balance on my gift card.) And if I'm sans kidlets, I'll grab a table. But next time I'll take just a notebook, with the intention of jotting blurbs about what I see around me. People-watching - "researching" - is one of the things I do best, after all. Maybe I just have to fine-tune what I do when I'm in a coffeehouse.

What are your experiences at Starbucks (or that local coffeehouse) like?

30 comments:

Angie Ledbetter said...

Janna, character development research is exactly what I do at cafes and bookstores. I still remember several B&N patrons I observed and heard sharing conversations...the Indian woman in traditional garb plus white tube socks and flipflops, the goth/vampire teens looking like they were on the way to a party...the older gentleman whose coffee I bought and his reaction...what fun!

Jessica said...

This is so funny. :-) I've never tried to 'work' at Starbuck. Like you, I'd probably be too distracted by the people. Angie's right though. It's great research on human interactions and dialogue.
Glad you had yourself a day out!

celestialwolf said...

Hmm.. interesting. I have the opposite thing happen. I tend to go on Sunday afternoons to my local Starbucks or Perk Place and write. I take breaks to sip my tea and take in the people and atmosphere but overall I work fairly productively. My worst problem is that I tend to write poetry rather than actually work on my WIP when I'm there. Don't get me wrong, I love writing at my desk at home but there's something to be said about changing my surroundings that gets my creative juices going. For me all those sights, sounds, conversations and smells are white noise that I just seem to tune out.

Joanne said...

There are different aspects to writing, and I think you were absorbing nuances and conversations and personalities, tidbits to use in actual writing. I could never sit down and write in a coffee shop. To me, the actual physical writing requires a quiet, uninterrupted space. Coffee shops are where I go for a coffee break!

Janna Qualman said...

Angie - Ooh! I love that last example. I'd love to have seen your interaction with him.

Jessica - Me, too. It was a great day. :)

Cel - I get that "white noise" sensation at a local "mom and pop" diner, if I go there alone. I feel more at ease, and can actually get caught up in whatever book I have along.

Joanne - I certainly see your point. And there's nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned break. ;)

Rafael said...

I prefer the Border Coffee shop to the local Starbucks, if for nothing else that it feels more organic, has a better view (well of the shopping mall parking lot but still) and the coffee is cheaper. Plus I can always while away the time reading the latest mag or writing book. I do buy at Borders too, heck I spent so much on coffee they just gave me a $5 coupon online!

I started at Starbucks but the prices and the temptation of the (again overpriced) chocolate cake were to much. I only go there when the local Borders is to crowded (happens more often than you know) and I can't find a table to myself.

I take my notebook, plug in my iPod and read or write while zipping coffee. The iPod serves as a mood setter/inspiration source/white noise generator of sorts. The coffee calms me down. Sometimes I don't write anything, except for some nonsensical notes, but other times I write about 4-5 pages of hand written story.

It works for me, but I can see why it may be a distraction for you.

Brian and Kelly said...

I'm not all that "Starbucky," but I love First Watch!

Melissa Marsh said...

I have a hard time not people-watching, which is why I seldom go to a public place to do any writing. I can usually get in some character development or plot stuff, but I can't really write because I can't concentrate. I love to watch people!

Janna Qualman said...

Rafael - Wow! I'm impressed. :)

Kelly - I can't wait to go back to First Watch again.

Melissa - Me, too! I just (silly me) never realized it would make it hard to get work done. :P

Turkey Lurkey said...

I'm afraid that I am one of those (anti-Starbucks) people. I have a French press (thanks to Santa) and making coffee is much cheaper than buying coffee from SB. Also, they are so crowded!! I rarely get a moment away from the munchkins.. they are dragged with me wherever I go, so the luxury of doing 'research' is spent at home on the forums. There are quite a few 'characters' out there! ;)

Janna Qualman said...

Turk - Oh, don't I know it! There's this one gal who poses as poultry. I mean, can you believe it?! ;)

Janet said...

I'm like you. I rarely get anything decent written in a coffee shop. Music, conversations, people, everything conspiring to get me off track.

colbymarshall said...

I can get NO work done at a place like this...I am a people watcher, so I would also get dstracted!

Amy Mullis said...

I'm like Colby; a people watcher. But Starbucks is a great place for that sort of thing, which is invaluable for helping me match characters to faces and characteristics to people I want to capture. Besides, at the holidays they have a terrific pumpkin cheesecake.

Melanie Avila said...

I'm the same way. In college, I rarely went to the library to study because it was more like a social outing than a chance to study. I get distracted too easily and if there's someone or something to watch, I will. I can read a newspaper or something similar in a Starbucks-like setting, but if it's something that needs my concentration, forget it.

Jen said...

Hmmm. My experiences with Starbucks usually consists of either hitting the drive thru, or -more likely- grabbing a venti caramel macchiato after a book splurge at Barnes and Noble. Never yet had a chance to sit and read or write in one, with a coffee at my elbow.

Now that you mention it, I'm not sure I'd even want to try, lol!

Janna Qualman said...

Janet - Oh. *loses wind from sails* I thought that said "I like you." Was disappointed when I realized what it really said... ;)

Colby - I can see how that might be the case. You'd be making funny skits up and stuff...

Amy - Mmm... pumpkin cheesecake!

Melanie - I think we're a lot alike in that respect.

Jen - I think the way you've been doing it sounds great! :)

Rafael said...

Just came back from Starbucks (no go on Border's on the weekends). A few lines written (a short-short story on Deja Vu), lots of people gazing (pretty girls in short-shorts, gawd I love living in a tropical island, and yes I deserve a slap on the face for that!), and new way to convert my NaNo entry into a fully fledged 150k novel!

Tried the chocolate cake, and while it was delicious, I couldn't finish it.

:-<

Janna Qualman said...

Rafael - What?! And you didn't save the rest of the chocolate cake for later? Pfft! ;) Where do you live?

Rafael said...

Puerto Rico. As for the cake, well I just felt I couldn't eat it. I guess now that I am on this exercise tick, gluttony seems like a very real sin to me. I thought about offering it to a girl sitting nearby, but that sounded a bit weird to me.

Oh well....

Trying to Stay Calm! said...

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dommy said...

We usually go to the local Caribou Coffee if I'm with Tim and take our drinks to go...but sometimes, if I'm on my own, I'll buzz downtown to the Bean & Leaf where my writing group meets. If someone I know is down there, I usually don't get anything done, but I usually just take a book and read a chapter or two as I sip my ice tea (yes, I drink it year round) if I end up there alone. It's sometimes the only uninterrupted time I get to just read in a week.

Dominique said...

I always forget to sign out of that Google account to post...

spyscribbler said...

I can't stand background noise, but for some odd reason, Borders cafe and coffee shops is the only place it doesn't bother me. I just get straight to work.

But then, I write in Borders every day. I work at home, so I have to get out of the house sometime!

aaroncrocco said...

I actually loathe Starbucks. I think their coffee is too expensive, extremely strong and the atmosphere, IMO makes people seem fake and 'artsy' when they are not. It's just not my thing. I tried a cup a few years ago and it tasted like acid. Blech

Sharla said...

I just want the time to GO to Starbucks!! Wow, I'm so envious of all of you that get to do that! I write on my bed with my laptop on a pillow, with whatever my husband is watching on TV and kids talking/needing/demanding. And that is at night after dinner/laundry/dance classes/confirmation class/youth group and if/when I actually make it to that point. :) Then my husband will suggest going to sit in the hot tub, and well, that's a no brainer.

I have always fantasized about writing in a coffeeshop, but I'm such a people watcher too, I'd probably be too distracted. And self conscious like Janna said, wondering what people are thinking I'm doing.

I do keep a little notepad in my purse though, so when life offers up those little gems of oddities or dialogue, I jot it down.

Now I really want a Caramel Macchiato. Haven't had one in forever!

Janna Qualman said...

Dominique - I had Caribou Coffee twice - once was in Minneapolis. I think it was good, but I had the worst migraine of my life that weekend, and my memories may be a little skewed. ;)

Spy - Oh, I love that you go to Borders every day. I wish I could do that!

Aaron - Come on, now. Don't be shy. Tell me how you really feel. :P

Sharla - Oh, I know it! That was the first time I've spent any length of time in a Starbucks, for all the reasons you mentioned. --You're the second to mention a caramel macchiato, so I suspect I'll have to try one.

cafe paris said...

Starbucks is a big company, i really like their coffee, except espresso ;-)

Janna Qualman said...

cafe paris - LOL! Thanks for stopping by. :)

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