Michael Dean Clark
This is the fifth in a series of thoughts on how place shapes and is shaped by the stories we tell. The first four can be found here, here, here, and here.
This is a love song about the place where I write, not the places I’m writing about.
I have a bad habit, but it’s a habit nonetheless. I write at Starbucks.
Really, most of my friends think I write there so I’ll “have” to buy some coffee. And while I admit that I may have a (borderline) issue with my love for the Seattle bean, that’s not the main reason I work in the House of the Mermaid. It may, however, be the main reason I have a job that provides a paycheck that allows for said coffee ingestion.
But I actually started writing in the Green Room because I discovered that I compose better when there are people around me and natural ambient noise (that I, of course, drown out by putting my headphones on).
But I tried the monastic-writer-thing. The computer-in-the-closet-thing (hat tip to R. Kelly for teaching us all why it’s bad to end up trapped in a closet). The typewriter-instead-of-computer-thing so I could “feel” the story as an extension of my keystrokes. I even tried the low-rent-Hemingway-stand-and-deliver-thing, but my knee sucks too much to let me grow that manly a beard.
As a side note, I draw the line at the handwriting-in-the-Moleskine-thing. No yuppie journals for this guy (if for no other reason than my handwriting is so awful – thank you journalism years – that the cost-to-benefit analysis just won’t let me be that much of an affluent nerdy hipster).
Nope, for me, the place to write is Starbucks, with their endless supply of Pike’s Roast, horrible cover versions of songs I used to like, and meetings between wedding photographers and their clients. I have, to date, written two complete novel length manuscripts and am a few hundred pages into the first version of a third, and I would conservatively estimate that in the more than 1200 pages of text in those three projects alone, at least 1,000 were written in this, my other office.
Which brings me to yesterday when I was working on changing a scene in one of my books…it’s an important scene. I killed a kid (in the book, not in the store). It’s a child I worked on creating for more than a few years. And I killed her.
Now, I’m not an overtly emotional guy. But I was a little moved when the final words began migrating from my fingers to the screen. Maybe even a little teary-eyed (though I blame that on the eerie confluence of that scene syncing up with my friend’s cover version of Muse’s “Unintended” – thanks for being such a sweet-voiced beast J. Lynn).
This is the first time I’ve ever wondered if writing in public, in Starbucks of all places, is a good idea. I mean, I never know when a scene like that is going to present itself and I sure don’t want to get the whole Coffeehouse Weeper rep. That’s just not the guy I want my kids to have to deny is their father. I give them plenty of other reasons for said denials.
On the other hand, what better market research is there for a writer than resting secure in the knowledge that a scene they created brought them to tears in a coffee shop full of strangers? Unless that author is Glenn Beck, it seems like that says pretty good things about the emotional resonance of the moment.
Michael Dean Clark is the fiction editor at Relief, as well as an author of fiction and nonfiction and an Assistant Professor of Writing at Point Loma Nazarene University. He lives in San Diego with his wife and three children.