Friday, May 11, 2012

Writing in Public

I'm composing this post in a crowded cafe in Warwick, NY and realizing how much I miss writing in public.

The first writing class I ever took found me sitting blankly in front of a sheet of paper at my typewriter (yes, I'm dating myself here). I sat staring at that blank sheet with my fingers poised over the keyboard ready to pounce when the first word poured forth. I waited and waited some more. Waited for what? I'm not sure but I figured I would know when it happened.

After all this what I believed writers did- they sat, they stared, they lined up their pens and pencils by height and color, and re-arranged the expectant ream of paper. Their desks were sparse. Their lives were rigid and filled with a monastic quality I found attractive... Well this was my vision of a writer back when I was 19 and still believed there was magic involved in the process.

I signed up to present my story to the class. Like the over-achieving honor student I was, I jumped in early taking one of the first slots. It didn't matter I had no story. It didn't even matter I only had a vague idea of what a short story was.

In class when the instructor spoke about short stories by Faulkner or James, I nodded along with everyone else. I didn't want to admit the closest I came to the short story were my grade school readers which were heavy on moral but light on character and plot. I rushed headlong into the arms of the 19th century masters of the novel. The novel was my idea of writing. Our instructor said to think small, I thought 200 pages.

So there I was, the deadline looming, the typewriter ready with a fresh ribbon and enough paper to write the epic of all epics and still no story.

While wandering around the village one day, sans typewriter, looking for a bite to eat, I found this spot right on Broadway and Bleecker called VG's. It wasn't crowded but there were enough people to make me have to concentrate to make out the music playing over the speakers. I sat down, ordered and stared out the window and like an unexpected smack to the head, I had an idea...

I didn't want to wait until I got home, I grabbed my trusty journal our instructor demanded we carry at all times and just started writing. More people dribbled in and the waitress seemed to enjoy my presence refreshing my coffee and giving me a plate of fresh baked cookies. I sat there and finished my first short story.

I returned to VG's often, until it changed management and became a less friendly eatery. I found other spots. One of my favorites was Pat's Jazz Bar in Chelsea where I sat at the bar writing. Ralph Avanti, the manager, seemed to know when I was deep inside a story and he'd keep the men away, only sending the amusing ones my way when he felt I was ready for a distraction.

I've been trying to write at home but it's slow going these days, chores always seem to rear their ugly heads. So it's write and put another load into the washer or vacuum the floor and then write some more. Occasionally I'll get on a roll at my son's soccer practice but there's always the danger of an errant pass taking me or my computer out.

Today, I'm realizing I need to venture out into the world more often. It's a lot less distracting than writing in between laundry cycles. Although the guy coming in with the knee-hi socks circa the 1970's with sandals is pretty distracting.


  1. Nice entry. How has the writing been going since you were 19? Have you written any more short stories or novels? I like the way you express yourself.

  2. I've written a lot but nothing with any real focus until recently. I have so many ideas, I'll never suffer from writer's block. My biggest problem is finding the time. Currently I've been more focused on one project.