Cafes that are good places to write, part 1

/karen/ asks about good cafés to visit in order to write. I’ve just added a few new cafe reviews to the cafe section of the site, and tried to include some idea of what it would be like to write there.

It’s a difficult subject, though. Many cafes would prefer that customers linger for no more time than it takes to finish what you’ve purchased: even if such a place is perfect for writing, it’s hard to recommend it if it will bring about financial hardship for the owner!

Another complication is to consider what environment would be best to enable someone to write. For me, I look for a little bit of background noise: soft conversations, and background noise or music that is low on recognizable words: otherwise, I’ll be involved in what happens around me, and not be able to concentrate.

I also look for a somewhat enclosed space with some natural light: this might be because I work under fluorescent lights most of the time. Too crowded, too dingy and it’s a distraction: conversely, too much space around you, and you feel exposed, and can’t concentrate.

Table size is also a factor: you can’t just hover on a 10-inch deep mantlepiece, perched on a bar-stool. You need room on the table to balance food, drink, and a Moleskine. A good cafe to study in has greater requirements: few cafe tables have room for multiple stacks of A4 paper, and a slightly dirty table may not be the best surface on which to rest a laptop. At some establishments, it would seem out of place to have such equipment on display: they’re strictly venues for quiet discussion or reading the paper.

Does anyone have other criteria for a cafe that is a good place to write?

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  1. I take your point about it being hard to come up with a criteria. Perhaps I should reread that section about writing in cafés (well “restaurants”) in Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. She talks a little about what works and doesn’t work for her.

    For me, I think the most important factor would be the staff: whether they’re happy for you hang out for a little (like the Tea Centre) or whether they’re keen to shuffle you out and claim your table (Urban Bites was a little). Goldberg always recommends tipping well to show the staff you appreciate their consideration, and also building up a relationship with a place over time.

  2. I’m inclined to recommend half-a-dozen cafés for different reasons, and perhaps that would be a good starting point for discussion.

    Getting to know the staff will help: not sure how tipping fits in with our non-tipping culture in Sydney. I’ve found that it takes a varying amount of time to become a “regular”, but once you cross that threshhold, you have a lot more freedom to spend time in a place.

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