Bribing Myself with Coffee


There may be a book about writing out there that doesn’t recommend writing every day, but I haven’t read it. Anne Lamott even recommends writing at the same time every day. I recommend it myself, as I wrote here. Do I practice it? No. Not since my oldest child was three or four, and that was about eighteen years ago. So in the end, my writing schedule varies considerably. Sometimes my work schedule is light and manageable, and I can write most days. Sometimes—most times—I am too focused on getting an editorial project done, or have too many classes to teach, and the writing takes a back seat. Way back. Locked in the trunk, even.

I then go back and forth between lecturing myself, calling myself a hypocrite, and forgiving myself because, after all, I need to spend the bulk of my time working because I need to earn money. Bread has to get on the table somehow. About a month ago, however, I realized I had to put myself on some sort of schedule. My laptop, of which I was very fond, finally passed on to whatever Elysium our electronic devices go. I had been writing my current novel in longhand—don’t ask why; I’m really not sure—but I was slowly typing it into the laptop. Now I was left with my PC, a computer that suits me well for work, but when I am not working, I don’t want to be on it. I don’t even want to be in my office. (I really miss my laptop on Sunday mornings when I read the New York Times online. And whenever I catch up on my TV watching by watching shows on network websites.) So with the laptop gone, I’m really wedded to writing longhand. But as I wrote here earlier, this book is not flowing smoothly from my pen, with scene following scene, chapter following chapter, in an orderly, logical fashion; or with characters introducing themselves at the appropriate time with their backstories all ready to go.

No, everything is scattered. Backstories appear several chapters after the characters do. (Which can work, but in the case of two of my characters, there is information the reader needs when the characters are first introduced, and right now that information is showing up thirty of so pages on.) Different characters take the lead in different chapters, and because this is all in two notebooks now, I can’t easily look back to see if it makes sense to have a chapter that focuses on Beryl follow a chapter that focuses on Sam. And as I write, I realize—Oh, I need to write a chapter in which thus and such happens, and it needs to go three chapters back. Really, it’s a mess, and without a consistency to my writing schedule, it was getting messier.

Then one morning about a month ago, my son was running late and I had to drive him to work. Work is ten minutes away, on the other side of town. On my way back through town, I passed my favorite café. I hadn’t had my morning coffee yet, and was tempted to stop in, but I really wasn’t dressed to be seen in public; and I would have preferred to stay, not get my coffee and go. The coffee is expensive, and as a friend of mine says, if you’re going to pay that much, you want the whole experience of being there. It did get me thinking, though. What if I drove my son to work two mornings a week, and then went to the café, bought twelve ounces of their excellent and expensive coffee, and wrote?

I told my son my thought when he got home from work. “Do it!” he said.

So I’ve been doing it, Wednesday and Friday mornings. I drink my coffee and write two to three pages, and then I close my notebook and come home and don’t look at it again. The hectoring voice in my head has stopped. Story ideas, intriguing aspects of characters, pop up throughout the day; and I make mental notes to follow up on them next time I’m bribing myself with coffee.

Now, the only downside to this brilliant plan is that my son works for a landscaping company; and here in New Hampshire, the landscaping season closes by mid-December. He won’t need me to take him to work anymore. Then I will have to see—when it is cold and dark at 7 a.m.—if the coffee bribe will get me out of the house and sitting at my favorite table, bent over my notebook as I drink my Ethiopian coffee. I’m going to try. (It really is very good coffee.)

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2 thoughts on “Bribing Myself with Coffee”

    1. Only a few other people are generally there. One older garrulous man was occasionally distracting, and I have learned not to sit at the table directly opposite the speaker for the music. I don’t think I’d want to write an entire book in a public place like that–but at the rate I’m going, I just might end up doing that–but as in working in an office, having to block out other sounds and people can help to focus the mind.

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In which I blog about the days I write and the days I don’t write; about teaching about writing; about reading (which is never enough); and occasionally about music, because sometimes a three-minute song can tell as good a story as a novel.

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