Here I am, sitting at a table at Panera, using their wifi and drinking their soda while I work on my story. How stereotypical, right? The trope of the lonely writer holed up in a coffee shop working on the Great American Novel, has been done, done again, and overdone. Darn you, Ms. Rowling, for giving everyone the idea it could be done successfully!
But ... it's a convenient place to squat during the two hours I have between when I drop off my daughter at school and when I have to start my work day. I find I get a lot done here, despite the constant distraction of other people's conversations and the cold draft from the front door opening over and over again. I've got a system nailed down now that works pretty well for me.
I usually don't try to write here - that's done at home, in a comfy chair, preferably in the sunshine and with a cup of tea at my elbow. But I do all of my first drafts longhand, so eventually I have to tackle the tedious job of typing them into my computer. Panera is a great place to do that, because if that's all I bring with me, and I purposely don't connect to the wifi, I'm not tempted to do other things instead. There's no laundry to wash, no Facebook to check, and no writing books to peruse. Just me and my handwritten draft and a keyboard, every Tuesday and Thursday, until it's done.
Most of the time I can tune out the noises around me. It's hard - I love to eavesdrop (what author doesn't? where do you think all of our ideas come from?) and people seem to think the booths at Panera include a code of silence or something ... they discuss the strangest things in the middle of a very public location. If all I have to do is type the words in front of me onto the computer, the intrusion of an occasional conversation doesn't really slow me down.
Other days, though, the lure of the hubbub is too strong. That's why I always bring along my earbuds, and why I installed a white noise generator on both my phone and my iPad. I prefer the full-featured one on the iPad, which lets me make custom mixes of sounds. I like matching the mixes to the subject matter I'm writing about - when I was working on Susannah Saves the Swamp, for example, I listened to lots of beach noises and croaking frogs, and it helped keep me in the mood. If I don't have a specific theme that fits, I go with a standard blend of traffic noise, crowd sounds, and a cat purring - I call it my City Apartment Special.
I'm a good squatter, always purchasing something, never taking up insane amounts of bandwidth by trying to edit photos or post video or anything. The restaurant makes money off of me, but since I was buying my lunch here before anyway, it's not like it's an additional expense. Besides, if my $10 lunch is the cost of actually getting something done twice a week instead of just driving back and forth on the highway another time, it sounds like a pretty good deal. Besides, I plan on thanking them in the credits when I finally get published, so it's a good deal for all of us, right?