Saturday, March 12, 2011

Coffee Shop Novelist

I've been doing something lately that I haven't done in quite some time. Every day for the past week or so, I've left the office at lunchtime and I've ventured down the road a bit to a tiny coffee shop tucked away off of a main street.

Though to call it a "main" street wouldn't exactly be true. It's one of those one traffic light streets, with a little diner, and an honest-to-goodness general store.

To say it's quiet down that way is an understatement; not many cars roll past, even during the day.

By the time I get to taking my lunch break (usually around 2:00 or so), the four- or five-table cafe has one or two other people sitting down, enjoying a cup of coffee and/or staring out a window at the river that flows not 50 feet from the dining room.

Me, though? I'm writing.

I'm writing whatever I want to write; I'm writing nothing that has to do with anything, and I'm writing for no one else in the world.

And I'm loving it.

I used to write so often that I'd take for granted how much fun it is to do. How relaxing it is to shut the door, and to punch away at those keys. Or, as I like to do, to scribble some barely legible notes down in one of the many black leather notebooks I've collected over the years.

I never really understood that, actually. Why I bother to write notes at all. I have, I've been told, the worst handwriting that near anyone's ever seen. My fifth grade teacher once told me I should become a doctor. Not because she thought I'd work well with people, or that I'd be good at helping them, but because my handwriting was so awful.

Ever see a doctor fill out a prescription? Yeah, it's like hieroglyphics.

When I do a cold read on a book at work--basically just a big copy edit of a book that I didn't work on, and so go into the read "cold"--I make my red pen edits directly on blown-up pages of the text. I then hand those edited pages over to the Production department, where they institute the edits and get the book over to the printer.

That is, once they've managed to figure out just what in the heck I was trying to convey with my chicken scratch.

Still, I'm a romantic, I guess, because I find something very cool in scribbling notes down in a notebook, my hand trying to keep up with the ideas in my head.

A line of dialogue here. A name of a character there. An idea for a blog post, squeezed tightly in the margin of a random page in the middle of a random notebook, long since tossed under a desk, or on top of a stack of books on the floor.

I like flipping through those notebooks every now and then. And, by now and then, I mean whenever I come across one, randomly poking out of a pile of comics next to the bed.

It's funny what I find in them. The notebooks, I mean.

There's an idea for a company that I've carried around with me since college. And a Batman story that I still think would work, on some level. There are names of streets and apartment complexes I never moved in to. And there are lecture notes from a course I took over five years ago.

I found one notebook filled with names of companies I wanted to work for. And I came across one that had the name of the company I now work for.

I also found notes from a lawsuit that never happened; lines and lines of dates and events to document every step of a long ago project.

There are song lyrics and poems, a phone number to a Chinese restaurant followed by the sushi special I must have ordered that day. There's a notebook that's more like a playbook, really, with bunt defenses and sign sequences for a baseball team I coach after college.

There are dozens of notebooks, and at some point, I'll even manage to track them all down.

I also have two flash drives filled with stuff, though they haven't had anything new added to them for at least a year. Actually, I'd all but given up hope on finding the second of those two flash drives--I have a black one and a grey one, and I'd thought for sure that the grey one was lost forever.

Until I found it, where else, but in my bag.

I popped it into my laptop, and I looked through all of the stuff I had written--and all of the finished comic book pages that were there, all colored and lettered and, actually, pretty cool. They were frozen in time, just like my writing.

Getting a new job often brings with it lots of new things to figure out, and to deal with.

Getting a new job in publishing these days often means that you'll be joining an under-staffed department, and that your work load is going to be heavy, and steady, and your hours are going to be long. And so I fell out of my writing habit. I stopped closing the door and punching the keys, and in doing so, I stopped doing something that I loved.

Used to be that, wherever I went--school, work, a day trip to a bookstore--I took my bag. My bag that was filled with notebooks, and my laptop was always by my side. I stopped doing that over the past year or so. Very rarely would I ever bother taking my bag with me to work, because it wasn't like I'd have time to use the things inside it.

Recently, though.

Recently, I've made it a point to carry my bag and my two flash drives--one black, and one grey--around with me wherever I go. And yes, there's still one black leather notebook in my bag at all times, but I only break that open if my laptop is low on battery, or if I'm in a place that's too crowded to set up a computer.

My days are actually much brighter now that I'm making a point to get away from the office and to sit down with a cup of decaf and write. Sure, there's plenty of work to be done in the office, but it'll still be there when I get back. Heck, it'll still be there when I leave to drive home at 7:00.

So, for now and for however long I can afford to get away for a half-hour, I'll drive down to my little coffee shop, and I'll write.

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