Writer’s Desk: Working in Cafes


When the writing den or (for those lucky ones) the separate writing office don’t offer much hope and the walls start closing in, there is always the cafe. The clink and clatter of dishware, the hiss of the espresso maker, the low burble of conversation; for certain kinds of writers this outside interference focuses the imagination more than it distracts.

Per Benjamin Wurgaft in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

Hemingway once reported that in cafés he “was like a charging rhino when he wrote,” noticing nothing but his target. Whether or not this is true, it suggests a familiar kind of authorial self fashioning. For a kid with literary aspirations, to write in cafés is such a cliché that it needs no explanation…

Like anything Hemingway says on writing, this is both utterly true and sheer nonsense. Wurgaft is correct that writing in cafes is a cliche, but for many of us it’s a necessary one. Sometimes just feeling like a writer helps you to become one. And nothing feels more like being a writer than hunching one’s shoulders over a cheap drugstore notebook and knocking out the lines while a coffee of thin brown water (like the Tom Waits line, “the coffee just wasn’t strong enough to defend itself”) goes cold by your elbow…

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