My Coffee Shop Soundtrack

Eavesdropping is one of the great advantages to coffee shop writing. Transcribing other people’s conversations is a great way to practice dialogue. But that’s something I only do occasionally. Most of the time, I need to block out the conversations going on around me to stay on task. This is especially true if there’s an annoying conversation nearby, in which every other word is “like” used for emphasis or as punctuation. Also, if I’m at the shop in the afternoon, when it’s full of college students having the kinds of conversations and arguments I had a long time ago (e.g., the shameful tendency for people who are not musicians to refer to Led Zeppelin as a heavy metal band, etc.).

Then there’s the question of music. While some places offer a variety of sounds, I often find that I either don’t like the music they play, or I do like it and, therefore, find it distracting. I’ll drift away from whatever piece I’m working on and start paying attention to the music instead. This is especially true for music with singing – the lyrics pull me out of my story and into someone else’s.

Even if I’m not distracted by lyrics or conversations, the general sounds of the shop or instrumental music might still affect my mood. In such cases, I tailor my soundtrack to the story I’m writing. If I’m writing a scene happening in a quiet room, I don’t want booming thunder for a soundtrack. If I’m writing a scene with two characters having a heated conversation in a car at night, that thunder might be perfectly appropriate (not to mention trite).

I contend with all of this by listening to one of those white noise apps. I’m cheap, so I use the free one. For years, I used Sleep Machine. Here are some of my favorite general combinations:

“Jury Duty”: morning birds, fish tank, spaceship
“Dusk”: frogs, stream, crickets
“Sunny Day”: beach (small waves), wind chimes, white noise 4
“@Office”: clock (really faint), low fan, white noise 4
“Summer Afternoon”: rain (heavy), distant train, rain & thunder

Because you can listen to three different tracks at the same time, there are lots of possibilities. If you’re writing a scene in a doctor’s office, you can use the fish tank sound with the waiting room sound or fan. You get it.

Unfortunately, I now need a new app. I just got a new phone and Sleep Machine isn’t available on this iOS. I will probably just download the top three cheapest apps and decide which to keep based on the UI. Unless someone has a favorite they would like to share.

Do you employ such measures, or do you find it easier to write with the ambience of the shop? Do you find this different from the noise your brain has to contend with at home? If you do use an app, which one? What’s your favorite individual sound or combination of sounds? Do you stay with a standard, or do you use sounds tailored to the scenes you’re writing? Please share and thanks for reading.

Why start a blog called “Coffee Shop Writer”?

I am grateful that I work at home. But I spend an inordinate amount of time there. If I don’t get out into the world for a few hours a week, I’ll lose my…you know (I’m trying to stop cursing so much). I also won’t get much writing done. I have a family, so when I’m not working, there are just too many other things I can do at the house – out of guilt, boredom, or laziness – instead of writing. The only time I can really, productively write at home is at night, when the house is quiet; but that’s also my only opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation.

I know writers who can sit down for 10-15 minutes at a time and knock out a few pages. I’m just not that good. I do write every day, no matter what, but I am most productive when I have big blocks of time. I just need some time alone to really concentrate, unencumbered by obligations. It’s nice to have a place that, in the context of my little universe, is mine separate from my family, colleagues, and friends. A place where I can ignore my phone and e-mail, and revel in my favorite thing. So I go to a local coffee shop once or twice a week. It’s my salvation.

Usually, I go to the shop every Saturday or Sunday between 8-9 a.m. and stay until noon or 1 p.m. I can usually manage one other day during the week, depending on my workload. I like to get there before the crowds start streaming in – primarily to secure my favorite table, and to have a couple of minutes to visit with the staff while I unpack and decide what to order. Once I sit down, I know I have a few precious hours to get something done. So I just get started. It’s very Pavlovian – my brain just knows it’s time to work. Sitting down at my desk at home just doesn’t have the same effect. Perhaps that’s because I don’t have a dedicated office space at home. I have an office area in my bedroom, but I I use it to do all my professional and personal computer work. The only thing I do at that table in the coffee shop is write.

Regarding the blog title, I prefer the word “shops” to “cafés” because I do not live in Europe and I don’t want to sound like a pretentious ass. In my city, we have coffee shops. Some of them serve food, some don’t, and some, strictly speaking, are really tea shops. But none of them are cafés.

Do you do most of your writing at home, or do you prefer to get out? Do you go to coffee shops? Or do you frequent your local library, a park, or some other place? If you feel like sharing, please leave a comment below. Thanks for reading.


Hi. Welcome to Coffee Shop Writer. If you’re like me, you may work at home and spend a lot of time alone, in your own head. Perhaps you’re a professional writer, working independently as a freelancer, or maybe you’re someone who writes in snatches of time, around your commitments to other work and responsibilities. Whatever your situation, the important thing is that you’re a writer. That means we have at least one thing in common.

Coffee Shop Writer is for all of us who would like to be members of a wider community without all the complications and obligations often associated with personal acquaintance. Let’s discuss whatever comes to mind. Also, let’s share information about our favorite shops in our respective cities. We might also discuss crafty things like structure and plot, share character ideas, and even explain how we find the time to write at all. There will be room for reviews ranging from the technical to our experiences at conferences and retreats. Eventually, I’d like to create an online journal for literary short story writers.

I hope you find something here that will inform, comfort, entertain, or engage you. Please keep in touch.