Coffee Shops and Creativity

Dear Coffee Shops,

I miss you!

Love,

Heather

Honestly, that sums up the the past year for me, creatively speaking. There’s just something about a coffee shop that makes life more creative. And without them? Let’s just say, I’ve been missing the whooshing of cream being frothed, the scents of fresh-roasted coffee beans being ground to perfection, the constant level of conversation mixed with soft music, and the taste of a latte that I simply haven’t taken the time to perfect at home.

According to an article in Ladders Magazine, “Most coffee shops have around 70 decibels of noise, which happens to be when most human beings feel connected, happy, and creative.”

About ten years ago, about the time I’d first started writing and was working full time as an accountant, I would stop by the coffee shop on Saturdays during the busy tax season. I always told myself, “If I have to work on Saturdays after working long hours all week, I was getting a Starbucks as inspiration.” And not one of those puny “tall” cups. I’d drink a full venti size. And yes, i’d be doing tax returns and crunching numbers from the ceiling by 9 am those mornings.

But on those mornings, I’d always make a mental note how happy everyone in the coffee shop seemed. Not this fake, social media happy. Truly content. Some people would be sitting across from each other having a friendly chat, sipping Americanos, while others sat alone with a journal or a small laptop. And I would always dream that someday that would be me, sitting at a small café table for hours and putting words to paper (or keyboard) for my next book.

And it did become me. I’ve written quite a few chapters of books from a local coffee shop. I outlined part of the International Thief series from a quaint coffee shop in Dublin, Ireland. I modeled Bryn’s Coffee House in Truth is in the Darkness, the second book in the Paynes Creek Thriller series, off of a coffee shop in Paris, Kentucky called Lil’s Coffee House. And I’ve spent countless mornings pounding my keyboard from my local Starbucks or meeting with writer friends to talk business and marketing (friends I haven’t seen since before this pandemic began except across a computer screen, once).

From Starbucks to local cafés, these coffee shops have long provided artists with creative energy in the form of caffeinated fuel and inspirational atmosphere.

Pablo Picasso, JK Rowling, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, Bob Dylan – whether they’re painters, singer-songwriters, philosophers or writers, people across nations and centuries have tapped into their creativity working away at a table in a café.” This is from an article in the BBC explaining “Why You’re More Creative in Coffee Shops.”

Of course, I didn’t need an article telling me that I’m more creative when I get out of the house and sit among other people. I’ve felt that with everything in my being the past year.

The same BBC article explains:

“It’s analogous to going to the gym for a workout,” says Sunkee Lee, assistant professor of organisational theory and strategy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business in Pennsylvania. “One of the biggest things about coffee shops is the social-facilitation effect: you go there, you see other people working and it puts you in a mood where you just naturally start working as well. Just observing them can motivate you to work harder.”

I would argue that I’m also motivated to work while at the coffee shop by the fact that I’m out of the house and away from the laundry that needs to be done and the sink full of dishes that need to be cleaned. This is helped, of course, by the creative energy that I mentioned above. And the 70 decibels of noise that somehow promote concentration.

But there’s also the people-watching aspect. You never know when someone is going to sit near you and inspire a character, whether it’s a mannerism or details of a character’s outside appearance.

In a recent article in International Communicafé titled “Going to coffee shops is one of things Brits miss the most during the lockdown”, a survey out of London, England explains what the Brits miss the most.

Visiting restaurants, pubs and coffee shops are top of the list of things British people miss the most during lockdown, according to one of the largest national surveys carried out on the Covid-19 crisis. In the survey, carried out by Allegra Strategies – a research consultancy working in the health and wellness industry – 4,000 people were asked a range of questions on the personal impact of the crisis, their future concerns, and their views on the government’s handling of the crisis.

When asked which of the following social outings they missed the most (with people being allowed three choices) of the 17 suggested social outings, an overwhelming number cited visiting cafes & coffee shops (second choice at 42%), restaurants (4th choice at 29%) and pubs and bars (fifth choice at 19%) as the thing they missed most during lockdown.

Visiting friends and family (60%) came top with travelling/day trip third (31%).

I’m going to guess that the items on the list come as no surprise to any of you. They certainly don’t to me. We all miss socialization. And while this post is mainly about our inability to spend hours inside a coffee shop drinking coffee around other people, and how that inability is harming our creativity, it’s not lost on me what that same inability is actually doing to the very coffee shops that we miss. We also have to worry if those very coffee shops that we long for are going to survive this pandemic.

And panic moment… What is the inability to visit coffee shops doing to the rest of the creative world? What if our most creative people are struggling to create without these much needed creative escape places we call coffee shops?

I don’t have a lot of solutions to offer today other than to suggest that we all mask up, run out and pick up a latte at our favorite coffee shop today, tip our baristas, and then meditate on the smell of that fancy coffee that we didn’t have to make ourselves. Then we need to pick up our journals, our laptops, our sketchpads, musical instruments, or whatever it is you need to grab, and create something.

And if you need a little ambiance while you sip your coffee and create, here’s a video for you.

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