We debate prep methods—to outline or not? We discuss suspense points—how much information is too much information? We read article after article, post after post, tweet after tweet, with inspirational quotes, structure advice, and how-to tidbits. But what about setting?
I’m not talking about time and place of conflict. I’m talking about the right place to write. For years I tried to write at home. On the porch or in the backyard during warmer seasons, in my bedroom or the basement during colder seasons, but no place was ever the perfect spot to get focused and stay on task. Then I tried the library, but it was too quiet. I tried the chain coffee houses, but they were too cramped. Nothing gave me inspiration, and if I needed motivation, the idea of having to find a place to write would be the nail in the blank page coffin.
After years of playing with a novel-in-progress, I wanted the summer of 2014 to be the summer of ME. Not me the mom or me the teacher or me the volunteer, rather ME the WRITER. Having already made the decision to cut the first fifty pages as well as transition segments between every chapter, the manuscript was going to take a hard hit, and the most pressing issue for me was finding my place. As fate would have it, a dad from my sons’ school was opening a coffee shop in May. The space was in the same building of a neighborhood bar, a legendary place in town, that he acquired several years prior, but he redesigned the interior to be used as a coffee shop during the hours when the bar was closed. I walked through the door on my way home from the last day of school. I had no idea what this place would become for me.
I first sat down in the back corner next to an exposed brick wall, and at times the mortar reminded me of the workers from nearly a hundred years ago whose toil and skill brought this building into being (images of their hardworking hands helped in describing the hands of my characters). Vibrant artwork created by a local artist hung alongside ukuleles and guitars, mixing the talents of old and new (the instruments and owner inspired the auditory imagery of my market scene). With a music school upstairs and local musicians playing at the tavern next door, the theme resounded in the coffee shop, so, opposite the decorated brick wall was the album cover wall (one might notice the resemblance between my character Franz and David Bowie), and over the airwaves, the tracks of the day were from renowned folk and rock groups, never distracting. The lighting overhead was just right; the stool and tabletop were the perfect height. On the couches that faced each other on the small stage in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows, a mother and child played with puzzles (a typical pastime from years ago, too), and on mismatched wooden chairs, two performers from the night before chatted over a cup of joe. Every customer and staff member seemed to inspire me in some way. When my protagonist, Livia, goes to a bar to discuss Franz’s addiction, the bartender and drink were inspired by a mixologist I met while writing; the three volunteers in the Alarm office scene are based on three activist-minded women I met while writing. I talked Chicago history with teachers, I talked poetry with lyricists, I talked research with librarians. I found critique readers for my book, I found blog readers for my website, I found community. In return, I’ve supported events and publicized my love for this place. I’ve attended gigs for new musicians I’ve met. I’ve become friends with the baristas. I found my place, and it’s made an incredible impact on my writing.
If you, too, have a favorite writing place, please comment.
The Friendly Lounge - 6731 Roosevelt Road, Berwyn IL - 708.484.9794
Open Weekdays 7-2 and Weekends 8-12