Recently a huge row broke out on a writers’ group when someone complained that people around her in a café were being too loud,

But surely a café is primarily for social interaction rather than as a solo writer’s workplace?  Admittedly I am an old lady , well fairly old,  but I wasn’t the only  one lacking in sympathy. Most people (fellow writers, remember)  felt this person had an over-developed  sense of entitlement.

Of course writing in cafés  is a long held tradition. The following piece appeared in Melbourne ‘s Age newspaper in 1912. A Paris correspondent wrote;

In Paris there is the ordinary café, which charges moderate prices, ranging from 5d to 10d for a consummation. And after you have ordered this consummation you have the right to remain as many hours as you choose. Then there is the extraordinary café, which is usually situated in Montmartre, and which is designed to catch the credulous tourist. Some of these cafes flourish on their past reputation as the resort of seedy geniuses. At the Chat Noir years ago, Maurice Donnay and others who are now celebrated writers, used to recite verses to an audience of kindred spirits. They are now famous and prosperous, and the Chat Noir knows them no more. They have forsaken the joys of Bohemia for that society which they used to despise so profoundly when they did not possess a decent suit between them.

The moral of the above story is, do not expect a cheap cup of coffee from the café where J. K. Rowling wrote much of the first Harry Potter novel.

The Elephant House, where J.K. Rowling liked to write.
Too famous for struggling writers.

I love this quote from  Ernest Hemmingway, another aficionado  of scribbling in cafes.

Cafe quote by Hemmingway

We might need more than a pencil and notebook these days. However, lightweight  laptops , plenty of power outlets and free wifi  have made things easier.  To be honest,  free wifi is more a hindrance for the easily distracted such as myself.

Writing is a lonely pursuit and I  love the social buzz cafés provide. It would never occur to me to use earphones and play music; that  would be defeating the purpose.

I am painfully aware of outstaying my welcome and of not contributing to the profits of the establishment. For this reason it is never a particularly cheap place  for me to work.

Someone with  experience as both café owner and patron  is  Michael Idov, the Latvian  born  author and journalist. Idov and his wife  naively opened a café in New York, which went bust after only nine months.  It was a little too warm and cosy, and it seems literary types were inclined to linger.

Cafe owner's dilemma.

One of my favourite  writing spots is Govett’s Café in my village of Blackheath. It’s relatively quiet, inexpensive and the staff are friendly without being intrusive. I tend to write away from home in winter, so soup is my usual choice. Plus a couple of coffees of course.

Writer's working lunch.
Don’t drip the soup into your keyboard.

UPDATE – September 2019 Since I published this piece Govett’s Café has decided to close on Mondays. However, there is always a large wooden table outside in the arcade. I have created my own space here. I buy a takeaway coffee and a cake from somewhere else in the village and work away to my heart’s content. Some people spot me and try to open the cafe’s locked door. If anyone interrupts me, my associate Editor Des quietly hands them of my business cards.

Pauline’s Personal Café.

I think the last word  on the subject of writing in cafes should go to Idov;

That sounds fair enough to me.

In the true spirit of writers, Idov published  a successful novel based on his failed café.

Michael Idov and his novel Ground Up

I can’t help wondering whether he wrote the novel  in cafés.

UPDATE – I’ve found the perfect winter writing café in the village. Look at that wonderful wood fire. Good grief, who ordered those chips?? Surely not me.

Wattle cafe Blackheath
How cosy!
  1. A good and informative article. I love the scattering of photos. I, too, love to write or ponder on my plots in coffee shops. However, they are invariably noisy, but that’s where I can get ideas and choice of words from different conversations going ob around me. This Wednesday evening it’s the writing group I belong to to hold their critique evening. Sometimes, I think it feels more like attending a roasting.

    • Pauline

      Thanks Heather. Writers definitely need to be out and about observing. Have to admit I haven’t belonged to a writing group for many years. People tended to read out interminably long poems.

  2. A great post. While cafe owners appreciate ‘bums on seats’ to look busy, they also need to make a living and therefore need folk to buy their coffee. Stretching a coffee out for a few hours is a little unfair!
    I’ve never tried writing in a cafe – I’m too distracted and end up talking to anyone who’ll join in! 😀

    • Pauline

      Thanks Carol. I only do it as a little treat, really. I can imagine how some people must annoy the café owners.

  3. I loved this article. I am fascinated that some people can actually write when surrounded by noise and movement around them. I am clearly very easy to distract and shut myself off from any form of noise and people too! I don’t know if it helps but suits me!
    I remember my children studying with music going on. My mind would be waiting for the note I know is coming and distracted waiting for it! People chatting is possibly less distracting as there is no expected note coming!
    I can’t imagine being able to concentrate with, for me, distractions going on around me. I think I’d rather join in!
    Your stories are all so real Pauline. It is so easy to marine all you describe. Thank you for sharing them.

    • Pauline

      Thanks Lorraine. When I am immersed in my work I honestly don’t hear a thing. I still like to have noise around me though. It’s hard to explain….put me in a silent space and I doubt I could produce a word.

  4. It’s funny. I’d rather not write in a cafe as it seems a bit forced. I’d rather go to a cafe, take my mental note pad, and observe while having coffee with a friend. Observing all things while in public has been more helpful to me so that I can go home to the privacy of my home and write my heart out.

    This is a great blog! Thank you for writing this!

    • Pauline

      Thanks so much for taking the trouble to comment here, Kimberley. I mainly work at home too; a working lunch in a café is a special treat. But yes, we writers are incurable people watchers.

  5. Love your blog post here. I don’t do a great deal of café visiting, though is great for a treat when out and about.

    Always learn something new from your posts, will have to read them a bit more.

    • Pauline

      Thank you Anon. I’m glad you enjoy my little stories.

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