Here’s a piece I posted on Facebook a few months ago:
Every writer has heard the rule – sit your butt in the chair and write. This strand of advice says if you set a time – 10 AM or 10 PM, doesn’t matter – and show up, pen in hand or computer on lap, at that time, day after day, eventually your muse will join you. Non-writers have a more prosaic term for it – habit. I know a lot of writers for whom this works. But it’s never worked very well for me.
I used to know how to meet my muse, though. Reliably. Any time I wanted. Turns out my inspiration is place-based, not time-based.
All I had to do was walk into Common Grounds Coffee House on 32nd, find a seat in the front room (the back room didn’t work), set my aromatic orange-ginger-mint tea on the table or the little shelf, and the juices began to flow.
Over the past two decades, sitting in Common Grounds, I wrote in big black bound books, in little purse notebooks, on my laptop, in spiral-bound 5-subject notebooks with horrid-colored covers, on my netbook, on recycled greenbar printout, and on plain white paper borrowed from the barista.
I wrote while watching a parade of scantily clad tourists buying ice cream and iced lattes to consume as they cruised the shops, and in an almost-empty room against a backdrop of huge, floppy snowflakes; to the rhythm of the never-ending traffic on thirty-second; while listening to Wednesday night bluegrass practice, taking time out for an impromptu jig with the older Irish gentleman, a regular; and when I just had to go ask what was playing, it was so great. I wrote while sharing my table with strangers, and while wishing the people at the next table would shut up and leave me in peace. I wrote sitting on the tiled ledge of the planter waiting for a seat, any seat; while eating pizza from across the street, and between rushing back and forth to the Laundromat to move my clothes. For a while just past the turn of the century I wrote every Sunday night week after week, where, in an almost empty space, the same three customers pretended we’d never seen each other before, sharing nary a nod.
I wrote out of deep funk, and with such high energy that I could hardly stay in my chair. That one inspired a lively conversation among several of us about the future of the inner city, and made me some long-term friends.
Sometimes I indulged in flights of fancy, and sometimes my left brain kept careful order.
I wrote poems and stories and essays. I wrote speeches and training materials and technical documentation. I wrote memoir, lists of things to do, Christmas cards, and letters – to friends and to the editor. I wrote emails. Nearly all of the columns I wrote for the now-defunct North Denver News were written at (and sometimes about) Common Grounds.
It’s not that I can’t write anyplace else. I write in bed, on my front porch, at other coffee shops (most notably the wonderful-for-many-reasons Zook’s), and in cars on road trips. But the words don’t flow as well, the ideas aren’t as clear. Sometimes my muse doesn’t show up at all.
The only place I knew for sure that I could sit down and expect to say what I meant to say was at Common Grounds – whether over breakfast or late at night. Beginning on the very day they opened in 1992, walking through that door was the key to my verbal creativity.
Now they’ve closed their doors on 32nd. I thought I would have just a few weeks until I could settle in to my new home on 44th. But time drags on. My muse rebels. I circle my computer desk, but refuse to light. I head out to a coffee shop, then discover I’ve forgotten my notebook. I find more important things to do – scrubbing the floor or washing my hair.
I begin to be concerned. Will my muse be able to find the new Common Grounds? Will she remain tied to the old location, forcing me to set up shop at Ink? Will she allow me equal time at each? Or has she taken this hiatus as an opportunity to flee?
Where’s my muse? More importantly, where am I without her?