Round these here parts, you can’t throw a stick into a bar without hitting a writer.

Or, in my experience today, a coffee shop.

I live in a land lousy with writers. We are not just the land of 10,000 lakes: we are the land of 10,000 novelists.

Indeed, just in my random little neighborhood, I know of seven whose houses are in walking distance, and another twenty who are within a five minute driving distance. And these are just the people I know and enjoy hanging out with.

The other day, I met up with a bunch of kidlit author-types from the greater Twin Cities area at a pretty cool bar in Saint Paul. I love these people, I really do. They are funny and sassy and salty-mouthed, three things that I always appreciate in a person. They are also quick-witted and furiously smart, which  means, of course, that I’m always about nine steps behind in any given conversation (childbirth, alas, has significantly impacted my IQ), but I love it anyway.

At this particular bar night, the always-lovely Erin Downing (author of Kiss It and Prom Crashers) informed me that the Caribou Coffee near my house has magical powers.

Well, that’s not how she put it. She just said that she got a lot of work done there while her two youngest kids were at preschool. This, of course, I interpreted as having magical powers. Because right now, getting work done seems magical.

And you know what? I went over there, sat down, installed the good old Mac Freedom to keep my sorry self off the shiny, shiny Internets, and know what I discovered? That coffee shop is magic. MAGIC I TELL YOU! I’ve gotten more done in the last three days than I have in the last month. I think I may go there every day, if I don’t destroy my stomach lining in the process from so much dang coffee.

Today, when I arrived at the coffee shop, I ran into Ms. Downing, and of course it was wonderful.

“I’m so glad you told me about this coffee shop,” I said to her. “It has magical powers. This Caribou is MAGIC.”

The girl who was ringing me up stared at me, open mouthed. “It is?” she said. “I work in a magical Caribou? I had no idea.”

And I think I made her day.

One of the things about this weird job of writing books and selling books and hoping people like your books, is that it can be tricky to find colleagues. And so we work alone in our insufferable insecurities and annoying neuroses. This, alas, is attractive to no one.

When I was writing The Mostly True Story Of Jack I had no writing group (except for during one, small bit of it, but I couldn’t keep it going) and I really didn’t know any writers very well. And the ones I did  know, I was too shy to reach out to. And so I worked alone, writing only during the hours of four and six in the morning, and showing my work to no one, until I finally got an agent.

There were times, after my book sold, that my work as a writer was so divorced from my everyday life – none of my friends were writers, it was hard to talk about at playgroups or at the park – that I started to wonder if I had secretly made the whole thing up.

After all, I’m pretty good at making things up.

One of the things that I’ve tried to do over the last year is to forge stronger bonds with the writers of this community – both my physical community of the Twin Cities, as well as the tribes of cool writers who form little bands online. Because this work is hard, and because we need colleagues, and we need to blow off steam after work sometimes, and we need the support of caring co-workers.

And sometimes, someone needs to tell us about magical coffee shops. Because something needs to give us a little kick in the pants every once in a while. And  magical coffee shops are as good a kick as any.

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16 thoughts on “Round these here parts, you can’t throw a stick into a bar without hitting a writer.

  1. I haven’t been to that particular Caribou, but agree with the magic part. I roughed out the better part of a book dummy one summer at a Caribou when my kids had camp. Minnesota is a wonderful place, especially with such a fab kid book crowd! It has been lovely getting to know people (like you)!

    • I am continually gobsmacked at the sheer amount of talent here. Also, at everyone’s willingness to support and encourage one another. Really, it’s a remarkable place.

  2. Good find. A long time ago I discovered that for me working at home was next to impossible without a separate office, and by separate I mean a different space from my day to day use. All it takes is a room divider or some other “wall” to separate off the daddy/husband/friend space from the “worker” space. Once you get into the routine of working at home this need diminishes some, but not all the way. This is why going to a different place to work can sometimes be so productive. There are far less distractions.

    I’ve also found that any “away” office will start off really good, but then gradually taper off until going there is as bad as being at home. Then its time to find a new space to work, or go back to working at home for a while.

    This may or may not be your experience, as they say YMMV. All I know is that for me the creative process requires a laser fine focus, and almost any distractions can smudge the mirror. So I go wherever, and do whatever it take to maintain that focus. I’ve also found listening to music helps me focus. I can do this for pushing pixels (the day job) as I’ve done that work for almost 20 years, but music and writing is not a good mix for me, yet.

    • Yeah, finding what “works” is always a moving target. I figure, when I feel like I’m bumping against a process that’s not doing what it needs to do, I need to change something – location, direction, tools, process, or whatever. The only constant I really have in my work is change.

  3. Thanks for the post! I go to a Magic Mozart’s coffeehouse. Works a lot better than sinking into the black hole leather couch in front of the television.
    I appreciate what you said about working alone in our own insecurities and neuroses. I was just thinking of that today. I also like the idea of “tribes of cool writers who form little bands online.”
    Happy writing,
    Laurie

  4. So nice to read all these comments! I used to live near this one and probably thought I was the only one ‘chasing the dream’ in there–very fitting comment about the land of 10,000 novelists. Once you make it known that you’re working on a novel, more seem to come out of the woodwork. I’ve been going to the Dunn on Lake and the River Rd, and I’d like to brand that one magical, too ;) Like you at one time, I’ve got a newborn, so the only time I have to write is EARLY before work so a magical place to write where I can plonk down on plonk out lots of words and ideas is priceless. (It also feels good when the baristas start making your drink as soon as they see you walk in.) I’m really happy to have come across your blog. Best of luck!
    Kelly

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