Recalling the good old days of writing in coffee shops

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To an outsider, writing out of cafés may seem like a cliché to sport the image of an author. For me, it's an element I have begun to miss sorely.

By Purva Grover

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Published: Wed 26 Aug 2020, 10:26 AM

Last updated: Wed 26 Aug 2020, 12:29 PM

I wrote my first book out of a coffee shop in the neighbourhood. Our house help, who'd see me leave the house, with my laptop in tow, at 9am every day, thought I had a 'real' job. Writing is not a real job, we're often told and made to believe. After all, it doesn't pay the bills. Let's leave that discussion for another day. So, as I hopped from one café to another, I soon had their Wi-Fi passwords saved in my device, other than that I'd tasted the lattes and mochas within the radius of a kilometre, and of course had enough croissants. Fortunately, a book did come out of all the hours spent in the surroundings, smelling of coffee beans and cinnamon. The joke within my social circle was that I might as well add a personal touch to my writing desk - flower vase and a stationery holder. I'd walk in and plug in the laptop, the barista would get me my preferred poison, sometimes spoil me with an extra cookie or play my favourite track on the system. The staff at most of these cafés soon knew me by my name and were kind enough to reserve the corner chair for me. They knew, I'd turn up. Why am I telling you this tale? Because my words and I haven't visited a café since February for the fear of bringing home the virus. Has Covid-19 taken away this simple routine (too) from me?
As writers, we do rely a lot on our routines and coffee or tea. You would have often heard the advice of committing towards writing a certain number of words, each day; set aside a time, put the kettle on, switch off the mobile, et al. Each one of us follows what works for us. For me, and many other writers out there, writing at cafés was our ritual. I am a little at unease here, and whilst there are bigger global issues in the world to express concern, for now, I am going to focus on the writer having lost its space to the virus. 
Of course, I can write at home, but if you've ever written at coffee shops you'd know the whole experience is charming. A quick Google search will throw up names of famous authors like T. S. Eliot, who wrote at coffee shops. Often, I tell authors-to-be to make note of two essential elements of an author's life - one, writing is a lonely job and two, it isn't as glamourous as Instagram posts make it out to be. However, this space takes care of both. You are surrounded by chatter and clatter, and at times, the other regular customers even strike a conversation with you. Your friends know where to find you, so you may have surprise guests on a few days. And yes, the pretty walls and adorable coffee cups look good on social media timelines. Other than that, space comes with a sense of accountability; a friend, acquaintance, customer or staff member is likely to ask you, "So, how far into the novel are you?" I've been on the guilt trip and compelled to reach the end of the tale because I was answerable to those who watched me hit the keys, every day.
Also, there is something romantic about talking all things literary in cafés. I have hosted book clubs and conducted writing workshops in the setting. To an outsider, writing out of cafés may seem like a cliché to sport the image of an author. For me, it's an element I have begun to miss sorely. I and many others are taking the pandemic seriously, just as we're appreciative of the sanitary and precautionary drive at eateries. The virus is out there and I am not certain how long will it be before I can return to my routine of ordering a cuppa, staring out of the window, stirring in the sugar, and well, finally, writing. I can only hope, we meet, and live happily ever after. Until then, I'd sit down to write in the corner of my room and keep getting better at making the Dalgona coffee.

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