I turned the manuscript for my first book over to my editor at the end of February after a seven-week whirlwind of researching and writing. I joked that I would need to dedicate the book to the four coffee shops I rotated through on nights and weekends when I was desperate for a change of scenery after doing my full-time writing job from home each day.
Just a few weeks later, governments started issuing stay-at-home orders as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the United States. Local businesses — including the coffee shops where I spent much of my disposable income with pleasure — closed their doors without knowing when they’d be able to serve customers again.
I can’t begin to imagine how my writing process would have differed if I had worked on my book during those quarantine weeks. So much of the regular activity that takes place at coffee shops had come to feel integral to my writing routine: Getting up to pay for another cup of something hot every hour or two so I wouldn’t feel bad for lingering. Eavesdropping on strangers’ conversations. People watching. Dog watching! Gathering up all my items each time I needed to use the restroom, or asking another regular to watch my stuff.
Maybe you feel the same way. Actually, I know a lot of you feel the same way, because you chimed into the conversation in our Facebook group about how you’re faring without your favorite writing hangouts.
Perhaps you were a regular at your favorite coffee shop and made a habit out of writing in the same spot with the same perfectly made beverage each time you visited. Or maybe, now that you’ve spent a large part of this year at home, you’re just desperate for a writing experience that feels different.
Adjusting to our new normal isn’t easy. As you figure out what works best for you, here are seven tips for replicating the things you love about writing at coffee shops.
1. Write with a friend (virtually)
If what you miss most about coffee-shop writing sessions is the community, it’s time to team up with other writers for virtual writing dates.
No need be formal: Simply set a time and date, and make sure you’re logging on to the same video conferencing platform. Take a few minutes to catch up on life, share what you’re working on, then dive in—for 30 minutes, 45, or any limit you choose. Make sure to mute yourselves during your work session so the other person’s typing or snacking doesn’t distract you.
Share your progress at the end and schedule your next session. Platforms like Zoom and Google Hangouts make it easy to get together as a group if you want to add more than one participant to your virtual table.
Don’t have a robust network of writing pals to invite? You can find some virtual writing buddies in our Facebook group. Or maximize your productivity by working with a stranger on the FocusMate platform. You can participate in three 50-minute virtual coworking sessions per week for free.
2. Choose the right sounds
Sure, you’ve got your go-to playlists for every occasion. But no matter what song is on at your favorite coffee shop, there’s always that hum of activity layered on top of it, from conversations to coffee grinders. Replicate the feel of sitting in a bustling coffee shop while at home by adding the appropriate ambiance.
Try one of these websites that offer cafe sounds:
Each one has a free edition, and some have mobile or desktop apps you can install if you’re trying your best to reduce your number of open browser tabs.
Many of you noted in our Facebook discussion that you rely on these tools to get in the writing zone. Just keep in mind that if you’re writing at home with your family or roommates around, you may need to employ a pair of noise-canceling headphones to truly transport yourself to your imaginary coffee shop.
3. Level up your coffee game
Miss your usual coffee-shop treats like flavored drinks and warm pastries? Recreate some of that magic at home and treat yourself while you write.
No, you don’t have to charge yourself five dollars every hour you sit at your kitchen table. Mimic your coffee-shop favorites at home by picking up a bottle of flavored syrup, your favorite dairy or non-dairy creamer or a new-to-you tea blend. You may not instantly become a latte-art expert, but you can pick up a battery powered milk frother wand for about $15. You might even be able to order or pick up a bag of coffee roasted by a local shop.
Need a snack? Pick up your preferred pastry from a local bakery or your grocery store’s bakery department. You can probably freeze your treats and pop one in the microwave for a few seconds when you’re ready to sit down and write. Why not have a sweet reward while you’re doing the work?
4. Create a writing ritual in a designated spot
Half the reason you head to the coffee shop to write is for a change of pace, right? You can’t spend another moment sitting at your desk or parked at the same table where you eat all your meals.
Carve out space in your home that’s dedicated to writing. Not all the stuff on your to-do list—just your writing. Even a couple of cozy pillows piled up in a corner of your living room can be more inviting than your desk chair. Or stack your writing-time must-haves like your notebook, tablet or reference books by your favorite chair.
The space you choose doesn’t matter as much as the effort you put in to make it yours. Put a little sign up that says “Writing in progress! Do not disturb!” once you’ve made your coffee or tea and settled in.
5. Work outside
Why not take your writing outside if the weather is right? Set up at your local park with a blanket and lawn chair, or find space on a bench or at a table.
If you like to type but don’t want to deal with glare on your laptop, set up a shade for your computer—yes, we’re serious. It’s worth it for the people-watching, fresh air and ambient noise that will keep you focused on your work.
6. Check in with your favorite coffee shop
It’s true that many cafes and coffee shops that have started to reopen haven’t been able to offer indoor seating yet. But you might be surprised at what your favorite coffee shop has cooked up to allow you to linger safely.
I recently visited a coffee shop that featured a walk-up window for ordering (through Plexiglass, of course), a separate area for picking up your order and another separate area with outdoor seating designed for social distancing. Imagine a picnic table that’s sliced in half so no one can sit across from you. Last year, it would have seemed weird. Now? It’s the perfect spot to sit a spell.
Of course, follow the rules in your town, as well as the rules at the coffee shop. But if you’re really craving that cafe scene, a bench outside might help you satisfy your social and caffeine cravings all at once.
7. Splurge on a hotel day
Is your favorite part of writing at the coffee shop that it’s a space outside your home, away from distractions like laundry and family members? Then it might be time to get out of the house for a while.
With travel still at a near standstill, hotels want to fill their empty rooms. And they’re getting creative to do it by turning some of their rooms into workspaces.
You can book an upscale hotel room for up to 12 hours for a price that starts at about $110 (but can certainly go up from there, depending on the location). Some reservations come with a credit to use for room service or a discount if you want to spend the night. Coffee? That’s included too, naturally—your in-room coffee maker will be ready and waiting.
Check boutique hotels in your town for workspace offers, or check out Hotels by Day, which offers daytime reservations at major chain hotels for about 50% of the usual rate. Bonus: Book one with a pool and you can take a well-deserved afternoon break.
Remember that it worked for Maya Angelou, who used to reserve a hotel room for months at a time and wrote in her room for a few hours a day. That may inspire you to schedule a writing day in a room of your own soon.
Have any other suggestions for recreating the coffee shop experience from home? Let us know in the comments below.
Photo via LightField Studios / Shutterstock