Why So Many People Write at Starbucks



Why do so many people write at Starbucks?

The answer has to do with me going to Nevis. Let me explain.

Brain researchers don’t quite understand it all, but they’re learning more and more about something called “neuroplasticity.” This is the brain’s ability to change neural pathways and synapses due to changes in behavior, environment, thinking, emotions, and, of course, an unfortunate conk on the noggin. These changes in neural pathways and synapses determine, among other things, our creativity.

This means that your brain actually changes its functional structure based on your thoughts, environment, and the other items listed above. What does this have to with writing? Simply put, by changing our neural pathways and synapses, we can be more creative in our fiction as well as non-fiction writing. One way to do this is through a change in scenery.

I recall many times having trouble figuring out the approach to a feature article I was writing. Getting away from the office, even for a short while, really helped solidify my thoughts. The same went for my non-fiction books. Getting away always worked. A change often led me to “aha moments,” and I could see a whole book’s organization and structure in my mind’s eye for the first time.

Consider the Dune Shacks of Cape Cod. These ramshackle huts built for washed-up-on-the-shore sailors have offered help to the likes of Jack Kerouac, Norman Mailer, E.E. Cummings, and Jackson Pollack. Before modern science stepped in, we thought the structures’ powers lay in solitude, beauty, and the sound and smell of the surf.

People used the word inspiration. Sorry, it’s just that it was different–very different–from where the writer/artist usually lived and worked. Not only was the scenery dissimilar to home, but the shacks had no running water, electricity, or other everyday amenities. How’s that for different? They still don’t offer creature comforts, and you can enter into a lottery to try one for yourself.

You’re probably thinking that we writers have always known that a change in environment is good for our writing. Now we know why. The science is solid.

Writers often thrive in artistic and literary retreats. It’s not that the environment is so conducive to writing–although it may have to do with not having to cook your own meals or handling everyday family tasks–but, again, it’s that it’s different. A good pal of mine just returned from such a place where he clocked about 4,000 words a day while in residence. He claims his output was due mainly to being relieved of his daily household chores, but I’m going with the science.

By changing our environment, we change what we see, what we smell, how we feel, and what we think. This helps to get us out of our brain ruts which have been worn deep by doing and seeing the same things day in and day out. Scientists now tell us that these ruts are real and not imagined. Leaving these ruts puts us on new paths of thinking and understanding, and that’s always good for writers, fiction and non-fiction alike.

I can tell you right now that being on the island of Nevis is helping my ability to churn out new thoughts and ideas, and not just about writing. At the risk of being too obvious, Nevis is very different from where I live outside of Washington, DC. Nevis is lush and warm. It’s a roundish, volcanic island with one extinct cone in the middle, Nevis Peak, which is often shrouded in clouds. Yep, it’s different.

But you don’t have to get on an airplane to get the same benefits of being in a different place. It doesn’t take much.

Sometimes I just move my laptop to my dining room table and that helps clear the cobwebs. Other times, I sit in Starbucks and enjoy some flashes of writing fervor. It’s not the coffee or the slow internet that wires me for greater word output.  It’s being out of  my everyday office.

Instead of grinding away in the same digs, change your venue. Even small changes in your work environment can move your writing to new places.


Guest post contributed by Larry Kahaner. His articles have appeared in The Washington Post, The International Herald Tribune, and Popular Science. Currently, he is the editor of Silver News, a publication of The Silver Institute. Check out more of his posts at his blog.

Would you like two free audio books? Begin your 30-day free trial at Audible.com and receive two free audio books and 30% off additional audiobook purchases. You keep your two free books even if you later cancel.

Image courtesy of Sam Howzit via Flickr, Creative Commons.

70 thoughts on “Why So Many People Write at Starbucks

  1. I sure have found that different rooms in our house are conducive to writing different kinds of writing. I converted my son’s old room into an actual library with a desk, and it’s perfect for writing long, chatty letters in long-hand. But it’s stifling for writing anything really creative. For that I move into the big living room where I can breathe. The office downstairs, on the other hand, is for reality. Bills. The kitchen for laid-back journaling. So I totally get the moving around even just in your house.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I liked this post a lot–there is a real clarity you can get when you’re out of your regular milieu. However, I can’t write at Starbucks because usually the music annoys me. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I conceived the primary characters and premise of my NaNoWriMo Novel while sitting alone in my hot tub! (I’m in a local coffee shop right now, but unfortunately they have a good internet connection so I got sucked into reading a few blog articles instead of writing!!!!!) I’m signing off right now!


  4. Great article, which I have reblogged.
    You had me at ‘going to Nevis’, although I was thinking ‘Ben Nevis’ (the tallest mountain in Scotland) not an island.
    For me, I go walk in the Caledonian Forest, or go up a mountain (preferably by cable car or funicular!). By the time I’m home, I can’t wait to get back to that keyboard.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. So interesting. Thank you for sharing the science behind what a lot of us instinctively already do! It always gives a person an edge, I think, to be able to explain his/her behavior, if necessary.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I write all of my academic work in my office (I am a mature student, doing an English degree), but find that it is not conducive to creative writing at the moment. Might try St Arbucks and see if it changes.


  7. I have observed the same thing! A change of scene helps, whether I’m writing on rails during my daily commute, or using a few days at a motel as a writer’s retreat, which I blogged about here: http://writersrumpus.com/2014/10/07/finding-time-to-write-part-3/
    One of my writing buddies posted a comment about spending a week in one of those Cape Cod dune shacks.
    I thought it was the time to focus. But maybe it’s the place that brings on the focus. Either way, worth doing!


  8. Good article. I’ve noticed that I also write better in a different setting but I never thought that there was a scientific reason behind it. It makes complete sense though, so now I’m going to make more time to write in a different setting.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve found this to be so true. I’ve done it too. A few times I’ve taken my tablet to Starbucks to write, the words just seem to fly onto the screen.

    I tried to write in our small home office but it was a bit claustrophobic. I was even hearing voices! Now I have a little writing desk in the living room. It’s larger and more open there. However I do still hear the voices. I keep a Word doc open and write down what they say. You never know what will trigger an idea.

    I’ve re-blogged this!


  10. It’s funny… I have a friend who has been writing away at a story, and feeling frustrated at the stops and starts of the process. One day she decided to just take it one the road – down to Starbucks. It worked. Now she’s managing to find other venues; Wholefoods, McDonalds, and a number of other places where she can sit, plug in, and sip on some hot steaming beverage. And I noticed in a movie I was watching, based on a biography of a writer, that she ended up in a little café, sitting for hours writing long hand. Interesting that change of scenery thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This is a well written piece and very worth reading for anyone, whether writer or non-writer. Wondered if you had read that caffeine shuts down the creative pathways in the brain, whereas it is reported that alcohol opens them up and that is why so many writers imbibe.


  12. A well-rounded, multi-experienced person was more avenues to pursue in writing than a couch (computer) potato. (True confessions: I have never been to a Starbucks?) Please don’t tell!


  13. Interesting. I need it quiet in order to write and can’t concentrate in public places. The constant motion inhibits my productivity. I guess I enjoy people watching too much. It might be odd but I watch people typing away in coffeeshops and can’t help but wonder what they are doing… researching? writing? working? reading Facebook? I sit there and try to figure it out. I don’t accomplish much.


  14. This kind of makes me wonder if writing in motion — on trains or planes or other transportation — is the ultimate creative boost, since the scenery changes constantly. I’ve read that J.K. Rowling first thought up Harry Potter while on a train, and I’ve done some of my best writing while flying cross-country. Fascinating research and great post here!

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Your posts have been very beneficial and inspiring to me. This is such a wonderfully informative article. I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been too busy sitting around second-guessing myself in everything I do, but you inspired me to post today. I can’t figure out this whole re-blogging thing, or whether or not it would work for me, but I did add a link-back to your page and this article. Again, thank you as always for your tireless inspiration. ✨

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Totally agree with this! When I was trying to write assignments for my degree I had many hair pulling moments and cries of ‘I can’t do it!’ I then took our dog out for a walk and everything clicked into place. Good to know there was a scientific reason for it. Thank you for such an informative post 🙂


  17. Excellent post! Nice that my part of the world “inspired” you. Nevis (part of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis) is an island in the Eastern Caribbean. I was in the region around January. I didn’t write a thing, but I’ve been productive since I’ve been back to Canada.


  18. This is something that I agree with, but I have found that when I’m writing, I like the quietest possible. Starbucks isn’t exactly known for silence. But it is a great concept.


  19. I’ve been to St. Kitts, and then I’ve been to Nevis. It’s an idealic island. In our world of incessant attention grabbing and the defference we all give to the logic of the scientific method, the solitude that the sages of old so yearned for seems not only rare but to even hint at its potency often requires a qualifying statement. The poet, the artist, the writer needs perspective, and perspective is a function of antithetical experiences and world views. I liked your post.


  20. Love this. Changes in place affect our perspectives and our very brain chemistry. I wonder if this is the same neurological change that one experiences in visualization, hypnotism, or other altered states of consciousness? Thanks for your interest in my blog.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.