First posted on Bob and Jack’s Writing Blog on August 2, 2012. This post refers to the writing practice that starts every Tuesday and Friday at 2:30 p.m. at Louisa’s Café and Bakery in Seattle. We write for 45 minutes with a timer, then break into groups of four and share our work.
Update 01/18/2017: Louisa’s Café closed its business in December 2016. Our group is now meeting at Vios Café at Third Place (6504 20th Ave NE, Seattle, WA 98115), but just to be sure, check out Writing Practice before heading there.
1. Writing with other people produces insights
At Louisa’s, we read what we write, and that makes a big difference in the way I write. The people I write with are my friends, and I’ve grown to like and respect them over the years. One particular writing session won’t change people’s mind about my craft, so I’m not trying to make an impression. But I’m trying to make the five minutes that the other people around the table have to listen to me interesting for them. Whatever they’re listening to is a sliver of my work, a scene out of context, a piece of meta-writing. So I’m trying to make myself as clear as I can. Which means that, as I write, I keep an eye on my subplots, backstories, character motivations—any detail that I can add to make listening out of context easier. As I straddle all these worlds, my brain makes connections that it wouldn’t otherwise. That’s where the insights lie and that’s from where they spring forth, as far as I can tell. Thinking differently as I write makes for different writing.
On the other hand, listening to other people’s work out of context injects randomness in my thinking about my book. My brain is cooling down after the writing session, but is still in work mode. And it plays with whatever it hears. What if I do to my character what this other writer has done to hers? What if? What if?
2. Writing time is time set aside
When I’m driving to Louisa’s, I don’t listen to the radio. I think about what I’m going to write. By the time I arrive at the Eastlake stoplight, I’m living in the world in my head—good thing I know the way and I’m on auto-pilot. At the table, there’s nothing else in the world to do, but write. There’s no other option, the phone is on silent, and I’d better use that time to write. There’s a ritual to the writing practice: people taking their seats and finishing their pastries, the timer, “today I’m writing about.” The rules of the games are set, and I don’t have to think about what to do next. I know what to do next. I write, and I keep writing. That’s all I’m supposed to do until the timer beeps.
3. Writers around me are serious about their writing
Some days I come to Louisa’s and I doubt my work, my craft, my everything. But then I look around and there’s always somebody who’s very excited about his or her work. He finished a poem, she’s sending a manuscript to an agent, he’s going to try a new POV for his scene or going to write an article for a magazine. Whatever it is, there’s always someone who takes writing seriously at that moment. No doubts. No wavering. That’s when I feel deep respect for the writing profession and I remember what’s hard to remember when you’re low: how cool it is when you’re riding the wave. So I snap at attention as if the flag went up and I had to sing the anthem. And then I sit down, the time is set aside for writing, and there’s nothing else in the world to do but write.
4. Many writers know more about writing than I do
I go to Louisa’s to learn from people who are better professionals than I am. At this point, there are dozens of scenes in my book that ended up the way they are now because somebody gave me a suggestion, an idea, pointed me to a new approach, a new exercise. Made me think outside my frame of mind. Having an experienced writer tell me “this works” or “bring an intruder into this scene” pulls me along in my work. That’s progress I wouldn’t have made by myself, alone in my office.
There’s much more to writing practice at Louisa’s than that. There’s the feeling of camaraderie that I haven’t felt with people since college. There’s the exuberance at the end of the day when I leave the place with something I didn’t know I was capable of writing. There’s following dozens of great stories as they come into focus week after week, month after month. There’s having generous support as I try to shape myself into a professional writer. There’s the chocolate brownie and the peppermint tea. But above all, it’s the other writers who sit around the tables at 2:30 p.m. and turn a coffee shop in Seattle into a magical place.
See you Tuesdays and Fridays,