It’s a good start. But we can do better.
The New York Times blog recently highlighted a website called Coffitivity that plays ambient coffee shop noise on an endless loop to help you work more productively from home. I can only assume they previously deduced, through the same vigorous scientific trials I myself have undertaken, that Barista Noise is marginally more helpful to the creative process than Screaming Toddler.
I think it’s a little sad to stream the noise, though. You’re just going to sit there wishing for a mocha—and who’s going to bring you a mocha? Not the toddler.
The coffee shop (we’ve known this from the beginning) is the ideal place to work. You’re wired; you’re dressed; you’re in society but not fully participating in it—the perfect writer’s vantage point. There are bathrooms nearby, and someone to call an ambulance if you crash your head too hard on your computer.
But as long as we’re bringing things up to date, I have some improvements to propose.
The one on the right should do nicely.
Okay. It’s in a cool old house. Not a frilly Victorian house, just a nice one with lots of parking, and all the parking is in the shade.
Ground floor: tables, couches (miraculously free of crumbs and mysterious stains), big chairs, little chairs, counter stools. And you get to pick your window, too: city view, garden view, suburban street, forest, brick wall.
The music is slightly interesting, stuff you’ve heard somewhere before, but it’s not too good and not too bad, and every five songs you kind of do a little chair dance to the beat, but it doesn’t make you lose your train of thought. Vampire Weekend, I’m looking at you.
There is nothing wrong with this.
There’s very good coffee, which is what the place should smell like, but there’s also food. Simple and healthy-ish and literary themed: Olive Twist, Dharma Buns, Agatha Crispies, Banana Karenina. And yes, you have to say the actual name when you order it. No pointing at the menu, no saying “I’ll have the banana thing.” Because it’s in your best interest to stop taking yourself seriously right now, before you sit in the cushy chair and open the document.
You can do whatever you want here, but it must be creative work. You may not yell at your wife on your phone. You may not chat loudly with your friend about nannies or soccer or what Dorothy is going to do all alone now with that great big house especially now that she can’t do stairs.
Her name is Alice Munro. Because why not.
You’re welcome to take a break. The second floor is a bookstore. With a wine bar. And yoga mats, and a bartender who looks like Jon Hamm. He will serve you Tequila Mockingbirds and Bloody Mary Gaitskills and Marquezeritas. There is also a sleepy golden retriever who just had a bath. Massages and punching bags are available.
Finished your novel? You are so in luck.
There’s a catch: on this floor, you cannot buy things with money. You have to buy things with your word count. Five hundred words gets you a glass of wine or a half-hour yoga class. Deleting a thousand unnecessary words gets you the punching bag. If you finish a short story, you get free drinks for the rest of the day, plus any book from the shelves. If you finish a novel, Jon Hamm himself will give you a massage. But if you run out of word-count points, you’ll be asked to leave. Go back down and write another five hundred words. No cheating and making them sloppy. The golden retriever will know, and she will bark.
Oh, wait—the bathrooms. The bathrooms are named John Updike and John Grisham and John Milton and John Steinbeck. That’s not too much, is it?
There is no wifi password, because there is no wifi. If you want to reach the outside world, you must go to the third floor, to the turret. There are windows all around, and lightning-fast internet, and an encyclopedia and nature guides and ancient magazines and catalogs for historical research. That thing you needed to look up? You can totally look it up. But it smells funny up here. This is by design. Why don’t you head downstairs where it smells like coffee? You’ll be happier there.
Sit in your cozy chair, gaze out at your personal lake view, drink your Michael Chai-bon, dive back in, and forget where you are for the next two hours. No one will interrupt you to take your plate.
They won’t even mop under your feet.