All writers need a place to write. Knowing where you write best is an integral part of the writing process. Finding out where you find inspiration and focus makes writing possible. Despite this fact, place is often forgotten in thinking about writing. I learned many years ago I write best in coffee shops. The smell. The sound. The light. The energy. The community. I have written papers, reports, a thesis, a dissertation, and a book in coffee shops. To write in coffee shops is ritual to me now.
I moved to Connecticut Avenue in Washington DC in October of 2003. I chose my DC apartment because I found Politics and Prose. Politics and Prose was my immediate center. I read the woman’s biography book club selections, attended author nights featuring best selling authors, enrolled my nieces in the birthday book club, and wrote in the coffee shop. Politics and Prose was my DC literary home. I made my way to Politics and Prose in blizzards, torrential down pours, and record heat waves. That is where I worked.
I wrote religiously in Politics and Prose. I completed the manuscript of my memoir The Stage is on Fire at Politics and Prose in April of 2010.
The many writers that worked within the Modern Times Coffeehouse at Politics and Prose were a testament to the energy and ethos of a space that is in love with words. Slasher novelists wrote next to young adult fiction authors who wrote next to text book translators who wrote next to others. I learned about the writing life in conversations with authors who became friends over the years. They told me the ins and outs of book contracts, agents, pen names, niches, and publishers from a place of first hand experience. I learned about the rhythm and discipline required to be a writer. I learned about the feast and famine often experienced by writers. I heard the, “If you can do anything else, Do It!” speech more times than I can remember. I even learned about Marcus Aurelius as my friend wrote about him. Their willingness to share their writer’s wisdom was fundamental to my growth as a writer.
As a first time author, I needed to believe I could finish my manuscript. This writing task felt different from other tasks I had completed. My doubts were amplified. It was difficult to remember my hard learned writer’s lessons. “Do not hurry. Do not rest.” “Only you can tell the story.” “Word, by word, by word.” The environment at Politics and Prose was tangible evidence that finishing manuscripts and getting books published was possible. I saw people doing it everyday in the midst of a competitive and changing publishing industry. They showed up and succeeded. I had a space in which I could conquer my writing demons and meet my own writing goals. Upstairs I could revel in words and music, while downstairs I could write in the coffee shop. I arrived in DC as someone who wanted to write a manuscript. By the time I left, I had accomplished the task.
I now live in Miami, many miles from Politics and Prose. I have speed dated coffee shops here. I have batted my eyelashes. I have flirted. I have even left my email address with a few writing groups. Nothing has stuck. I have cut several coffee shops off at the knees because they were stuffy, expensive, and unwelcoming. Maybe I just can’t connect with them because they are not Politics and Prose, and I have not been able to move on. I will keep trying. I will keep reaching out. I will keep an open mind as I open my heart and laptop.