05 February, 2013

Resolution #2: Coffee Shops & Writers

There she is, sitting down at the small table next to the giant plate glass window. You’ve seen her before, or someone very much like her. Laptop taking up most of the available table space, a comically large battery pack snaked behind a corner couch and then a side table, plugged firmly into the wall before she is able to commit her genius to the written word. She types furiously at her keyboard, her left hand deftly reaching all the appropriate keys, her right pointer finger doing all the work because she went to public school and no one taught her to type correctly. But even with this handicap, she can operate at 85 words per minute, and thus, she will not mess with her system. Some days, when this finger releases a dull ache in the middle of the night, she wonders if one day it will simply fall off, a phalangic mutiny in defiance of the stress and strain she has forced onto it over the years of late-night reports, poorly written fan fiction, and witty inter-office emails. Alas, that is a story for a different time. This is the story about spending the afternoon writing in Starbucks.

For me, typing on a computer takes away all the romance surrounding the craft of writing. I mean, it’s just so unceremonious. When Hemingway wrote, he stood at a bookcase, pressing down the thick keys of his typewriter and reverting back to his reading board every now and again for story inspiration. Now try to imagine him writing today, whipping out a MacBook Air and getting distracted every 15 minutes by Buzzfeed's "42 People You Won't Believe Actually Exist" and "The 30 Most Important Cats of 2012".  Had those been around, who knows what kind of work he would have published, if he would have been able to publish at all. Many great writers have written human-altering prose, scratching notes on thin yellowy paper and sipping bourbon or scotch or some moonshine (I like to imagine that the common liquors bored them), trying to satiate that unknowable compulsion to conjure, craft, and create.

But I don’t have a secluded house off the lake to visit and contemplate the world at large and the people that inhabit it, nor I even have a remote idea about how one goes about acquiring (or making) moonshine. I do, however, live within a one mile radius of 9 distinct Starbucks. So I did the next best thing, and dedicated the second resolution from my 2013 list of 52 resolutions to spending an afternoon in Starbucks "writing my novel."

The novel itself is something I started to write in college as part of a class I took called "Introduction to Writing Your Novel." (We were concerned about creativity inside the class, less so in the class title.) The class was filled with 13 idealistic writers huddled around a conference table, sipping tea and talking about important things like narrative arc, protagonist trustworthiness, and a whole mess of concepts that I had never, ever entertained before.

It was in this classroom that I learned that my writing, and thusly my soon-to-be novel, sucked. But here’s why it sucked. The novel was intended to be a satirical look at the world of country clubs and those unfortunate teenagers employed there, their sardonic views on life, their tangled love triangles, the quiet moments of inner strength that surprised them when they were walking through peewater for not the first, but the second time that day as a very excited young person learned the front crawl. The story centers on a young lifeguard who was thrust into a job that she may or may not have been qualified for, the friends she makes, and the hilarity that ensues. You'll never guess who this protagonist was modeled after. (Hint: she now writes blog posts about her resolutions in 2013.)

So I can say with as much unbiased, objective, "don’t be married to your own words" kind of mentality that I can muster, this novel no es bueno. But am I going to give up? Hell no, for two reasons: 1) there was a long time in my life when I believed that this novel would be my first foray into the world of writing and make my impact on the countless citizens of the world who would be forever changed after reading my prose, and 2) it’s practically done. I mean, it’s 200 plus pages of content. Is that content kind of crappy? Sure, a lot of it may be. But much like Sisyphus pushing that big boulder up the hill, I will keep on trucking. And you know what book graced the New York Times Best seller's list in 2012? Fifty Shades of Grey. Just saying.

How much did I actually get done in Starbucks last Saturday? To preface, do you know how loud a cappuccino machine can be? Do you know how many tourists come into a Starbucks on a Saturday afternoon, speaking various languages and bumping into you with their big backpacks that they always seem to wear on their front so no one will steal from them?  (If you’re worried about crime on a Saturday at 2pm in Cambridge, then it’s going to be a long, hard road ahead.) Have you ever hit that point where you've had too much caffeine and the world is really bright and shiny and your feel like your head just might float away?

So I did not get much done. Maybe 10 pages were written or heavily edited, and about double that amount skimmed. There was also a long period of time when I honed in on the punctuation, appropriately titled each section, and inserted page numbers and a header for the document. But you can’t build a house without a solid foundation. Punctuation, matters!

This resolution by the numbers:
New content written: 10 pages
People on their laptops: 7
People actually reading books: 1
Cups of coffee, tea: 2, 2 (respectively)
Other Starbucks visiters: roughly a bajillion

Next resolution: indoor trampolining allegedly burns up to 500 calories an hour. But how many calories are burned falling down on a trampoline?