Five top tips for writing in cafes after lockdown

From coming at opening time to bringing concrete goals

Cafe “Thrive” in Cambridge, UK, with at least one eager writer present (Photo: Nicole Janz)

“Brrrrrrr! Gagagaga!”, babbles a woman, holding her baby up in the air. “That’s your first song, big boy! Dididididi!” I lose my focus and think about how quiet it was just minutes ago. This is the third time I’m trying to write in a cafe after lockdown has eased in the UK.

I’ve survived months sitting at my desk at home, being unproductive. A cafe has all I need: coffee, croissant, wi-fi, and power plugs.

But can I tolerate other people again?

What didn’t work

My first attempt to write in a cafe failed. I had picked my favourite place — the one where I used to write every Saturday morning for years. Eager to pick up where I left, I stepped inside, my backpack filled with pens, paper, and expectation. I almost didn’t recognise the cafe. The coffee bar was barricaded with chairs to prevent you from getting too close to the till. All cushions were removed from the white benches, transparent screens separating each table. The waitress rushed around with disinfectant in her hand, reminding customers who had stopped for small talk to stay in their allocated seats.

This place used to be quirky and cosy; now it had the feel of a hospital canteen.

I felt uneasy when I removed my face mask to sip my coffee. Just when I opened my laptop, I spotted the printed sign in front of me: customers should vacate their table after 75 minutes. I left well before that, anxiously, without even starting to write.

What worked

Then I tried out the third cafe. I walked in at 8am when it opened, ordered at the bar, and went straight upstairs to sit in the farthest corner of the room. A waiter in a bandana brought a warm blueberry croissant and coffee, ready to fuel my creativity. It got even better: my writer friend joined me at 10am to get some words on the page together. No one else was around, and I started revising an old short story that had been sitting abandoned on my computer since May.

This was bliss.

It was almost like before lockdown, when daily visits to cafes were a crucial part of my writing routine.

5 Top tips on working safely in cafes during covid

  1. Come at opening time: Enjoy the quiet morning and get in the flow well before the lunch crowds arrive (you’ll be more productive and safe)
  2. Bring your own bottled water and hand sanitiser: These are available for free in most cafes, but you may have to queue and lose your concentration
  3. Bring a writer friend: You can set goals together, motivate each other, roll your eyes at loud customers, and stay focused for longer (in lieu of a friend, noise cancelling headphones work well; or consider messaging a friend what your goal is for the next hour)
  4. Plan your goals beforehand: Have a list of goals ready so that you don’t have to spend time on coming up with the next tasks. All you have to do is go, sit down, consult your list, and start. I use the happy goal setting method.
  5. Check out cafes before you bring any work: This avoids frustration when you land in a place (with urgent deadlines to meet) where you just cant’ concentrate

My personal goal will be to build up more tolerance for human beings around me. When I worked from home, I missed other people terribly. I used to enjoy the company of others who cohabitant public writing spaces.

I can learn to filter out distractions again.

I’m hopeful — but not quite there yet. The mother at the next table is now making clicking noises with her tongue, then switching to “buhbuhbuh” and “dadadada.” Her baby is staring at the books on the shelf. He probably wishes for mummy to shut up already.

I smile at him and think: “Me too.”

Web: www.nicolejanz.com/writing | Twitter: @camwritinghub