November 2, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Day 2 - Why I Don't Write in Public

Yesterday, en route from point A to point B, I found myself at a coffeehouse with my laptop, and so I did indeed sit down and crank out a few more words for my NaNoWriMo novel (now at 2100 words, with today's session still ahead of me), but in general I don't bring my laptop to coffeehouses. If I go alone I usually bring a book or a notebook, and in the latter case I usually write ideas and notes, but not fiction, and there are several very good reasons for this.
  • First, and there's no point denying it, people working on laptops in public places often look like complete tools, e.g.:

But I also have some personal, idiosyncratic reasons:
  • Though I usually write with some sort of noise in the background - talk radio, music, or even television - there are certain times when I have to shut off everything and sit in complete silence in order to focus on a particularly tricky or complex section/ scene/ idea/ whatever, which would be difficult to do in a crowded public setting.
  • I'm surprised a lot of "public writers" don't realize this about themselves, but I am fully aware of the fact that I do not make for an attractive specimen while writing. I scratch my head or beard, pull at my eyelids, bite my lip, yawn, stare blankly, and so on. All these natural tics that I don't need to worry about while I'm alone and focused on my writing suddenly become liabilities when I'm out in the world (and still single).
  • Most embarrassingly - when writing scenes and dialogue I tend to act out whatever the characters are doing, I'm not talking about pretending to drive a car or climb a mountain, but the little gestures that usually accompany a conversation. The character nods and I nod, he shrugs and I shrug, he winks and I wink, and so on, as if testing out if the gestures suit the words being spoken.
  • Finally, I sometimes have to read things I wrote out loud, to see how they sound and whether they make sense, but I know I'm not alone in doing this.
Walter Benjamin writing
More than anything, however, I don't like writing on a laptop in public because I feel that it makes me unapproachable, more unapproachable than if I was reading, or writing with pen and paper, because people on laptops are often assumed to be "working," in fact they're working so hard they can't even take a break for coffee or lunch, and have to keep working right through it.
Personally, there's nothing I like better than the casual conversations with strangers that develop around books or writing, and this just doesn't seem to happen with laptops (you can't really ask someone on a laptop what they're working on, what if it's their taxes? What if they're just tooling around on Facebook?). Anyway, if you happen to see me sitting somewhere in public, reading or writing, feel free to come up and talk to me, I really wouldn't mind.

And with all that in mind, here's your inspirational quote of the day:
"Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards." - Robert A. Heinlein

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