I live a solitary existence during the day. I write from home. It’s quiet, I can hear myself think, I don’t have to get dressed if I don’t want to, and I can talk out loud in my character’s voices when I’m creating dialogue without the fear someone will call the crazy police and have me carted off.
I know writers, though, who actually write out in the…wilds. Or in this case, civilization. In coffee bars, sandwich shops, at the local library. Places that have, you know, people, milling around. I’ve never written anywhere that wasn’t isolated and private. Even the library with its noise restrictions is too loud for me because…you know…whispering!
I’ve got a scientific background, so one day I thought I’d put it to rusty use and do an experiment as see how this other creative faction, well, creates.
I actually got dressed – makeup too! – packed up my laptop and ventured north to a popular gathering place in my neck of the northland: Panera.
I’ve been in Panera any time of the day and I know it’s always crowded, so the time I began my experiment didn’t factor in. Just for transparency sake, though, I got there a little before 10:30 am. After the morning coffe/bagel rush and before the lunch crowd pressed in.
The place was – as usual – packed, but I found a single booth off in one corner under a window overlooking the busy parking lot. Because I couldn’t just sit there and observe without eating something, I ordered a bagel and a soda and when it was ready, settled down to try and do some work. I was at a critical point in a WIP plot line and needed to get through some emotional dialogue.
Laptop on and file opened, I took a sip of soda, a bite of bagel, and then put my fingers over the keyboard, ready to see what magic I could make. Ready to see if I could make some magic without getting distracted, in actuality.
Yeah, you’ve probably already figured it out. No magic.
Just when I thought I had an idea, I got distracted by the loudly whispered argument ( well, fight really) going on in the booth behind me between two college-somethings. It was a little difficult to navigate through all the college slang speak of you’s knows, and multiple likes every other word. Plus. neither of them knew how to complete a phrase without adding f**king to the word descriptors. I was able to get the gist of their heated dissertation, though, after a few minutes. Apparently, Freshman A hooked up with Freshman B’s main squeeze at a drunken frat party and now both these young women had a date at the school health center for “tests.”
Just when I thought punches would be thrown, one of them got a text and then they both zipped out of there right after.
Back to writing, Or trying to.
I got an entire paragraph down before I heard the squealing, high-pitched scream of someone being vivisected. Or at least I assumed that’s what was happening to the toddler I spied out of the corner of my eye. He’d thrown himself down on all fours, writhing and pounding his puny fists into the faux marble decorated flooring, his lungs proving he’d have a busy career as an opera singer one day. His gaunt, anorectic looking mother, red-cheeked and mortified, stood over him coaxing and cooing him to stop. The more she tried to comfort him the louder his wailing pitched. All patron eyes were zeroed in on these two, rubbernecking the tantrum, myself included. I wondered why no one came to the poor woman’s help and dragged the little brat up by his Baby Gap jeans, giving him a good tongue lashing at the same time, but then I realized that most well-intentioned people didn’t get involved these days because of frivolous lawsuits and backlash.
Eventually, the little bugger got tired and momma was able to pull him up ( I would have yanked!) and led him out of the eatery.
Back to writing – or trying to.
Ten minutes later a very loquacious and vivacious group of three women around my age and garbed in what looked like workout wear ( spandex leggings that barely came to ankles; multicolored track sneaks over tiny socks, and skin tight racer back tops) sat down in the booth in front of mine and proceeded to talk.
A lot. Like, non-stop. They spoke over one another, trampled on each other’s sentences, guffawed at what they were saying-loudly!- and generally seemed to be enjoying one another’s company. They stayed for over an hour, much longer than the time it took them to eat their salads, just…talking. About anything and everything.
I’d now been in Panera’s for over two and a half hours and had written exactly 76 words. My usual rate for that amount of time is at least 1000-1500, easy. At this point, I felt it was safe to conclude I wasn’t one of those lucky writers who could block all extraneous noise and commotion from my creative subconscious. I wrote better-certainly MORE- when I was alone, it was quiet, and I had no distractions, so I went back home and proceeded to write 10 pages by dinner time.
And even though I proved my hypothesis ( I can’t write with distractions!) I will admit this: being out in the wilds, er, civilization, even for an abbreviated time, helped me hone in on varying speech patterns for age-appropriate dialogue, gave me a new appreciation for how well behaved my daughter had been as a child ( I need to call her to tell her how much I love her!) and made me thankful I have girlfriends like those 3 women I listened to who- just when I need it the most- kidnap me from my self-imposed isolation and hermit-dom, and bring me back into the living fold.
Now, back to writing. Alone.