Café writing is a concept begun by American ex-patriots who lived in European cities in the pre-second world war years. Such writers as Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald and James Joyce created this custom. Often they were stringers for American newspapers, providing the articles on European customs and people, that so obsessed the American populace. These pieces provided their bread and butter money, allowing them the time to produce great classical stories like The Sun Also Rises and The Great Gatsby.
Often they wrote in café settings, because they could not afford fuel to heat the tiny garrets, which was all they could afford. They went to a café to eat a meager meal, and stayed to write. The proprietor’s allowed this, just as they allowed many painters to do the same. Sometimes, work was exchanged for food. This created a culture, where-in artists, of all kinds, met and mingled, exchanging ideas, providing support (practical, emotional and artistic) and stimulating an age of wondrous creative work.
The exercises below, allow you a way into the world of café writing. Relocate, if possible, for each exercise. Relax, enjoy the process. The end results only have to please you.
Exercise 1 Make a list of the restaurants, bars, lunch counters etc. in which you have written. You may have jotted a postcard, or a few notes for a story idea on a napkin; or made an entry in your diary or journal. Think back. Which is your strongest memory and why?
Exercise 2 Describe from your sensory POV (point of view) the setting you are in. Write five minutes.
Exercise 3 Choose someone you see in the restaurant and write a short story around who they are and why they are there. Be creative – expand your imagination. Write 10 minutes.
Exercise 4 Four people enter a restaurant. Tell what is happening from each person’s point of view while they are waiting to order. Have fun! Write for 20 minutes.
Exercise 5 Explore this experience, either in the restaurant, if you have time, or at home later. Journal about your feelings, response to the situation, and what you liked or did not like about the exercise. Conclude which approach best works for your writing style.
I find café writing a unique way of stimulating my creativity. Just moving into a new environment, or choosing paper and pen over computer, may create enough change to nudge you out of a rut, give you new perspective, material, or a snippet you might write down and use months later. Breaking routine almost always causes a little chaos, and sometimes that shakes up the order of your life, heading you in a new direction. Café writing holds you in the present, and there is no better place for the ultimate adventure.