Posts Tagged ‘Starbucks’

Why is it, when you go into a Starbucks (it’s not always Starbucks, but they seem to attract the species, like flytraps) in LA (I’m assuming it’s only in LA, but I could be wrong–enlighten me) that you see all these guys (and yes, it’s always guys!) writing screenplays on their laptops, an empty cup beside them like their ticket on the train? (“Look, Mr. Conductor/Barista! I paid to be here!”)

No, I’m not asking why everyone goes to Starbucks to write. I’ve written in coffee houses myself, and found it works a lot better than I expected. I guess if it was good enough for J.K. Rowling, etc., etc. It’s not the writing in coffee houses that I don’t understand, it’s writing screenplays.

Look, writing fiction is a crapshoot. Let’s take science fiction, because that’s the field I know. When I was a “kid,” there were those who (I’m sure from an overabundance of caring) made no secret of the fact that your chances of ever getting a story published were 1000-to-1. Even today, with dozens of markets available for short SF, the odds are about the same. It’s not pretty, but it’s true. (Which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try!)

But screenplays? I have no numbers to go by (and I’m too lazy to look), but I have to figure that your chances of selling a screenplay are about 1/10th as good as selling a short story. Yes, the rewards are vastly higher, but so’s a winning lottery ticket. So why write screenplays when your chances of succeeding at straight fiction are ten times better? I made more on my last sale than most of those coffee-jockeys will make on whatever they’re writing, if they push it from now until they die. (And believe me, what I make isn’t a lot to brag about. The pro rate for magazines as defined by SFWA has about doubled since the 1960s.)

I guess it’s the same mentality that plays the lotto. And I play the lottery, too, occasionally, though I stay with the small tickets. I guess I’d rather win a little every so often rather than play for the big pay-off that may (probably will) never come.

If you’re the other kind, and you hit it big, good for you. Go back to Starbucks and buy a round for the house.


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Home Alone

A friend passed me this article about work-at-home employees, and how they work just as hard (if not harder) than in-office personnel. As writers are often work-at-home, this struck a chord, because a lot of writers are not work-at-home, they are work-at-Starbucks, or the library. Some even rent offices(!).

The article found that if you work for someone else, it can be more productive to be away from the office part of the time. It relieves you of many of the distractions inherent in a shared work environment. But we writers, we (usually) work for ourselves. And I have heard from many of my colleagues that they have to squeeze in writing between child care, dog-walking, laundry, shoveling snow, or a thousand other concerns that, apparently, do not apply if you work at home for someone else. Why this is so, is beyond me.

Disregarding such things, though (I, for one, have none of those distractions and have mercilessly eliminated others–but I still have TV), writing at home is oftimes less productive than one would want. Would writers, conversely, work better in an office environment?

I shudder at the mere suggestion. I have found, on occasion, that working from the local coffee establishment is surprisingly easy–probably because so many others are doing the same thing–but I prefer to work at home. (The coffee’s cheaper and there’s no lock on the bathroom.)  And yet, the idea of treating your home-writing as a business project is not only desirable, it is essential if you want any sort of success. And by “success,” I mean finishing what you start.

Regardless of whether you want to sell, you need to treat writing as a job: Work regularly, work diligently, complete tasks. Even though we are our own bosses in terms of hours and choice of projects, our readers will give us our employee evaluations, and we have little to no control over our compensation. We’re really more independent contractors than anything. But we know that, more than anything, we have freedom.

Which is why, when we shiver in our unheated garrets, creating worlds that moments ago existed only in our fevered brains, we think of those numberless drones in those featureless cubicles, and we think:

“I wonder if the company supplies coffee in their break rooms?”


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Sitting in my car at a light today, a guy crossed the street in front of me, totally intent on his screen. No, he was not texting on his phone. He was typing one-handed on his laptop. Maybe he left his iPad at home? Perhaps he was hunting for Pokemon?*

Whatever, I just hope he wasn’t a writer, because no deadline is worth getting, well, dead.(And that goes for whatever project he was working on.) I suppose it isn’t surprising, considering that multi-tasking is de rigeur these days; everyone has to be somewhere or do something in a BDH. (Big Damned Hurry.) That’s why red lights don’t mean what they used to. I’ve been in two accidents in the past few years, both because of distracted drivers running red lights. Based on my experience, I have this advice: Put down your damned phone when you drive unless you’re planning to use it to call the hospital!

But I digress. What I meant to say was that I have a question: When did writing become a spectator sport? Go into any Starbucks (in LA, anyway), and at least one person will be plugged into a wall, tucked away in a corner, headphones on and laptop open. He obviously doesn’t want to be disturbed, because he’s got headphones on. Why doesn’t he want to be disturbed? Because he’s writing. Why is he trying to hard not to be disturbed that he must do it in a public place? Beats me…maybe he can’t afford to buy coffee for home? (Writers are notoriously pecuniary, after all.)

Writing is supposed to be a solitary pursuit, i.e, you stay home and do it all by yourself. Writers only go out when they’re in a writers’ group, and even then they’re hunched over in their tightly-circled chairs, armored against outsiders. In some climates, heating and A/C are required, and maybe you’re too poor to afford them–the classic remedy here was to go to the library (where you don’t need headphones to be left alone), although there are some notable exceptions to the rule.

But the library isn’t good enough any more. Now you have to multi-task: Not only do you have to write, but you have to be seen to be writing. Harlan Ellison once made writing an actual spectator event, but he’s Harlan Ellison (and he didn’t wear headphones). So why must so many write in public? That coffee is expensive. You never know who’s going to sit next to you. And it takes up space for other paying customers after your latte has gone cold.

Personally, I write alone. I have written in coffee shops, but only when necessary (like waiting for someone), and not extensively. I realize I’m not everyone, but still. As far as I’m concerned, the room is full enough with just me and my cast of characters. You want to multi-task? Try juggling three different viewpoint characters.

Believe me, it’s not as entertaining as it sounds.

*Speaking of which, if you are into Pokemon Go, try my friend Will Macintosh’s Burning Midnight for another take on the whole “treasure hunting” concept.


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1. Novelists have to do all the work themselves. When you write a book, you have to do all the work. You don’t have a director to lay out your scenes, or actors to fill in your characters. You can’t just say “Scene 1 – exterior – day,” and have someone else dress the set. (Of course, we don’t have to pay those people either, or put up with their whiny “But my character wouldn’t do that” tantrums, but such considerations do not inform my thesis.)

2. Novelists can’t just blow something up. In a movie, when the plot lags, you blow something up. Novelists can’t do that. We don’t have the permits.

3. Screenwriters can always blame someone else. Once you draft a screenplay, you give it to the studio, who usually gives it back–to another screenwriter. You often end up sharing credits with 30 other people you’ve never met. Then there are the directors, studio suits, and naturally, those whiny actors who wouldn’t know what to say if you didn’t write it down for them. (They probably have assistants to read it to them, for that matter.) So how could anyone blame you if the final product tanks? Your vision was pure. A novelist, though, he’s got an editor, maybe some marketing guys, and way back in the line, his critique group. Who’s he going to blame if the book doesn’t sell? “The cover was awful.” Yeah, that always works. Who judges a book by its cover? And if the book is a hit, who gets the credit? (Well, yeah, okay…but how often does that happen?)

4. Screenwriters get respect. In LA, you go into a coffeehouse, or a Starbucks (Starbucks isn’t a coffee house, it’s a coffee bar, don’t get me started), and half the patrons are on a laptop. Of those, half are students, and the other half are writers. Ask one of these laptop users: “What are you working on?” First, you’ll have to ask three times, because they’re all wearing headphones. But when you get through to them, the answer is either, “I’m writing a screenplay,” or “I’m writing a book.” The response to the former is, “Cool. What’s it about?” The response to the latter is, “People still read books?”

5. Screenwriters don’t have to find space to write. See no. 4. After enough people interrupt him, the novelist gets discouraged and goes home to drink his coffee, because they won’t let you put booze in it at the Starbucks.

All right. Enough of this. I’m halfway through my venti latte and I haven’t done any work yet.

Scene 1 – exterior – day

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