It is a beautiful spring day in New York City. I woke up this morning and my dim, cool room which is usually so great for writing seemed like the worst place in the world to spend the day. I went to the library, and it seemed like an awful place to be, too. So I packed up my manuscript and went out on a search through my neighborhood in Queens for a cafe I could sit at and do some work. Somewhere with outside tables, or at least windows that opened up enough to let some sun and air in. Somewhere that wasn’t a chain, where the server might stop and talk about what I was working on, or about books they liked or were reading. A place like the ones that used to exist all over the city.
But places like this are disappearing in New York City. They’ve been replaced by Starbucks and Panera Breads and Dunkin Donuts. Places with free wi-fi and no character. Places where instead of a server who will stop and chat with you about books, you’ve got people being paid minimum wage and doing anything they can to make it through another lousy shift.
If you DO find a place like the one I was looking for today, there’s a few ways that you can make it “your” spot, one that you come back to and write at and use as a place to get away from your uninspiring desk. Here’s some tips from someone who both likes to linger over work in cafes, and has done lots of waitressing:
1. Don’t use a table as your work space during the lunch or dinner rush. You can tell it’s lunch or dinner rush by the time of day (it sounds snarky, but it really varies. For example, here in NYC, dinner rush doesn’t start until around 7 or 8) or by simply looking around you and seeing how crowded the place is. If you had to be put on a wait list, please please please do not whip out your laptop and open the files with your manuscript in them. Pretty please.
2. Tip your server well. Yes, you’re a broke writer. Yes, you only ordered a pot of tea. But how many times did your server come back to fill it up with hot water? Did your server come back to give you a new spoon when you dropped yours on the floor? If your server’s been to your table a million times, don’t tip on the $5 cappuccino you drank, tip on how much work they did.
3. If your server tells you that it has gotten busy (probably even really nicely since you’ve been totally absorbed in your work) and they need the table, it’s time to move on without putting up any fuss at all. Yes, you were there first. And, yes, the server still needs to make a living.
4. Talk to other people. The other day, I was bumming a cigarette from someone sitting in an outdoor cafe with a notebook out. Turned out he was a writer, too, and we started talking about our work. This is not something that happens when you are hunched over your desk at home. Make the most of it.