Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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December 26, 2014

The Perils of Writing in Public

photo credit: iandavid via photopin cc

photo credit: iandavid via photopin cc

It’s the day after Christmas, and if you’re anything like me, you’re probably exhausted and have a jolly hangover. So let’s just hang out and swap stories.

Orly and I were chatting in an early email over coffee the other day about yet another way that we writers are seen as a different species by the rest of the population: Writing in Public.

You’ll find our kind mostly in coffee shops. We’re easy to spot. We’re the ones either hunched over, squinting at a laptop screen, or staring with an unfocused gaze into space. That’s the socially acceptable stuff. But then there’s the other stuff – you know, the behavior that makes us stand out, even though we’re usually oblivious to that fact.

photo credit: ahhyeah via photopin cc

photo credit: ahhyeah via photopin cc


Solitary oddities:

Twitches – I was writing in the library the other day. My protagonist was thinking, when someone came up and laid a hand on her shoulder. You know that twisting, duck-out-from-under move? How do you write it without doing it, over and over, while you’re writing? I’m sure I looked like I was having involuntary nerve spasms.


Faces – Have you ever been writing an expression, say, an irritated mother butthole-lip-purse – then realize you’re staring at another person? And that they’re looking back with that, are-you-looking-at-me-and-what-the-heck-did-I-do-to-you look? Yeah, of course you laugh. And the other person gets uncomfortable enough to leave, because you’re obviously unbalanced.

Laughing – sometimes you’re just so clever, so funny, that you can’t hold it in. I’ve done it too, along with an ‘I’m so awesome’ seat dance that I’m sure is entertaining to others.

Choreography – your hero is in the fight of his life – hand-to-hand combat with the bad guy. You can’t write that without a little chair-choreography, right? But can you do it without looking like you’re grappling with an imaginary friend? And if you’re in your normal author uniform, you could be mistaken for a schizophrenic homeless person and be asked to leave.

 Staring – Even if you’re managing to keep everything in your head, you’re going to be looking somewhere while you do it, right? If a person happens to be in the line of your unfocused gaze, they’re going to get uncomfortable by the second or third minute. Promise.


photo credit: Nelson Minar via photopin cc

photo credit: Nelson Minar via photopin cc

Group weirdness:

We also meet our own kind there, like zebras at a watering hole. There is safety in numbers.

But we also tend to feel more comfortable and let down our guards. My crit group met for years at a B&N Starbucks. We’ve got great stories of inappropriate behavior.

Sex – today’s society has come a long way, but discussing unusual body positions and demonstrating them is still not seen as appropriate. Trust me on this.

Murder discussing how to kill someone and dispose of the body without getting caught – let’s just say getting asked to leave isn’t the worst than can happen to you.

Anarchy and mayhem – I’m surprised I’m not yet on no-fly lists. 

Awkward Silences – you know how when you’re talking in a crowded room, and there’s a sudden lull? You don’t want to be discussing deer antlers, and how the velvety outside and bonelike inside reminds you of . . . well, just take my word for it. You don’t want that to happen.

Okay, your turn. We want to hear your funny stories public writing stories in the comments! We know you have them!

Hey, if I can tell my ‘deer antler’ story . . .

About Laura

Author Headshot SmallLaura Drake is a city girl who never grew out of her tomboy ways, or a serious cowboy crush. She writes both Women's Fiction and Romance.

She sold her Sweet on a Cowboy series, romances set in the world of professional bull riding, to Grand Central. The Sweet Spot (May 2013), Nothing Sweeter (Jan 2014) and Sweet on You (August 2014). The Sweet Spot won the 2014 Romance Writers of America®   RITA® award in the Best First Book category.

Her 'biker-chick' novel, Her Road Home, sold to Harlequin's Superomance line (August, 2013) and has expanded to three more stories set in the same small town. The Reasons to Stay released August, 2014.

In 2014, Laura realized a lifelong dream of becoming a Texan and is currently working on her accent. She gave up the corporate CFO gig to write full time. She's a wife, grandmother, and motorcycle chick in the remaining waking hours.

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48 comments on “The Perils of Writing in Public”

  1. Wow. Sounds like you're a really fun person to write with. My friend and I write at Starbucks, and sometimes (and I'm sure it's accidental, really...) we'll say things like, "okay, who do we kill today?" I'm sure that has nothing to do with the sudden availability of seats at our favorite table. Nope. Nothing.

  2. I'm not sure if I'm glad or disappointed that I wasn't there for the antler discussion. 🙂

    Guilty to all of the above (except the antlers). And that's why I never write in public. Except for those couple of times I was working on revisions during the child's team practice -- two hours is plenty of time to make a decent dent in a chapter. There are a few folks at the climbing gym who avert their eyes when they see me now.

    1. Orly, the deer antlers were epic, mostly because half the table had never seen a deer....and, you know, the sudden silence thing. The same thing happened one day when we were talking about alternate words for sex parts. Awkward!

  3. OMG, this is so true! Except I'm guilty of doing this at work. Luckily, my cell mates - I mean coworkers - know I write and are now used to the random looks, movements & questions. It'll be interesting this coming year when inept be working as much and can go do these things in public!

  4. I definitely frequent coffee shops. Yes, we are an odd and adorable bunch. I can spot "one of my people" but i now better than to disturb them.Great day after Xmas post. Thanks Laura

  5. I've never written in public, though I have critiqued on the plane. That's been interesting. Especially the time my seat mate looked at me and I realized I was moaning, "No, no, no" while scribbling red ink on the pages. Wasn't your pages, Laura!

  6. When I am writing in public, there are often times when I change the font color, make myself a ginormous note to come back, and move on to scenes that won't require as many facial contortions, or worse yet, tears.

    My husband laughs at me sometimes, especially when I'm so funny I can't help but LOL, but that's part of married life. He balances it by handing me cinnamon bears after the crying scenes, so we're all good.

  7. Okay so I never write in public - at least put pen to paper or keyboard equivalent - but I do find myself thing about the scene I'm about to write as I go about my normal life. I was walking down the High Street in town one day and suddenly caught sight of myself in the plate glass window of a shop walking exactly like my psychopath killer and pulling the face! I took a quick guilty look around but I don't think anyone else spotted me.
    Surprising they haven't locked one us up yet. Our explanations might just stretch the credulity of the authorities!

  8. Funny! I've been guilty of mumbling words out loud to "hear" how they sound on paper. And I was also once guilty of shouting an expletive because I realized I'd taken a detour from my plot and would have to revise several pages I'd written.

  9. Thanks, Laura, for a time-appropriate post! I'm sure this week brings family and friends to visit many of us, and for writers on deadline, giving up the office in the spare bedroom is probably the worst holiday present ever! I write in public often because I don't always have a quiet place at home (5 kids, many of them now with posses and significant others who travel with them. You do the math.) The worst moment was when I took my writing to my son's gymnastics class. I was working on a character who practices voodoo, and muttering incantations from a book I'd picked up at the library...guess where the other moms were sitting? Yep. Across the room.

    1. I agree, Holly - my office is stuffed with sleeping people and luggage, too. I miss my computer! Orly also writes at kid practice too - public voodoo? Yikes.

  10. I wrote my entire manuscript in a Starbucks and I'm pretty sure people there think I'm insane. I would talk to myself. I would make intense facial expressions as I tried to capture the right word for whatever face I would make. Then the kicker to all of this is that I would base trivial characters on the people sitting around me. I would stare at them trying to be discreet (but not succeeding at all) and would get caught constantly and do the whole "quickly look away and raise my eyes to the ceiling muttering, please stop looking at me, please stop looking at me." I don't care, writing in public is awesome.

  11. I'm prone to dancing in my seat with my head tilted to the side like my neck's broken. With my eyes shut off and on, of course, to make it odder. My family knows that this means I'm 'in the Zone' and that they should leave me alone. And I also make the faces! This may be why I generally don't write in public.

  12. So relate to this. I often write in restaurants with the obligatory glass of wine and stare, laugh or frown whilst in my own little world, I'm just glad no one has balled me out or worse, slapped me lol.

  13. I'm not sure if I did any of these but I had my headphones on rocking out and trying to figure out what the heck the noise was. The noise was Angry Birds had clicked open on my phone. A man reached over and pointed at the phone. Oops. I will admit to dancing in my chair and trying NOT to sing along out loud.

  14. It's the involuntary reading aloud. I write best alone. So when I want to get a phrase just right, I read it out loud, listening to see if that blog would sound appropriate as say, PBS commentary. How does the cadence feel? Just what the public wants; a coffee shop with their private radio announcer.

  15. No writing in public for me - yet. There's a nifty little deli/coffee shop here in my little hometown that I've vowed I'd work in someday. The problem is..., I doubt I'd actually get any work done b/c everyone knows everyone, and that means - interruptions galore. I think I'd only "work" in a public place if I was about to type THE END, or maybe only had some editing. Deep thought process is necessary for my poor feeble brain to crank out any legit sentences.

  16. Hey Laura, loved the post, I didn't realise that others experience the twitching, pulling faces, and general oddness that I exhibit when I write in public which is frequent. In the library lately, the teenager in the desk ahead of me kept looking around and staring. On her third turn, I realised it was because of the loud tapping I make when I type very fast. Now I won't apologize for being a fast writer, but it was a dilemma until i reached my daily word goal.

    Best - Nikki.

  17. I loved this! Laughed out loud...because I could totally relate. I often work at a coffee shop or cafe with my best friend (who's not a writer, but works on her laptop plenty). Now and then, she'll look at me oddly, and I suddenly realize my arms are doing the choreography of a scene to make sure it works or I'm making a sad/angry/scared face so I can describe how that feels and what happened. But hey, she gets on conference calls sometimes and gestures as she speaks -- as if the other person can actually see her. So we look really cool -- I mean weird -- together. Safety in numbers indeed! 🙂

    And I'd LOVE to write with y'all. What a hoot that would be!

  18. I have to say the high point of my 'writing in public' to date was laying out a sex scene while sitting in my husband's hospital room after his hip replacement surgery. Because yes, faces. And gestures. And nurses who started asking if I was in need of medication.

  19. My crit group meets at Starbucks, and the things that we have LOUDLY talked about or demonstrated have been quite hilarious. My personal favorite was our discussion of a sex scene there was a dispute on how the girl, laying on her back, could see her partner and a person on the other side of the room. The discussion ended with a quick staging. We got a lot of strange looks that day!

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