You sit in Starbucks and go through the routine. First, you will have slogged your way up the High Road at ‘How Early?’ O’clock in order to try to snaffle your favourite writing space in the coffee shop – the one where you can be easily distracted by the hundreds of nearly-but-never-quite accidents at the junction; the spot where the simple human drama of people parking illegally and then running back to their cars to avoid a ticket (oblivious to the CCTV now trained in their direction); the chair where you can see the queue best (and evaluate shoes and haircuts), where you can hear the sofa-groups that form impromptu behind you, and study your fellow mac-worriers (there’s rarely any war going on, let alone work) from the back of the class.
The tiny victory of beating a certain gentleman to that spot. The tedious weekend tussle with research girl who never stays for long. The frantic scramble when the certain gentleman leaves, as you know he always will (his schedule varies, you are sure, just to irritate you). The knuckle-eating misery of waiting for ‘some random’ to finish their phone-call / extra hot extra wet caramel soy machiavelli machiatto / fruit toast, blissfully unaware of the importance of The Seat.
And then the routine can begin in earnest. Pull the laptop out of the bag and twist – it is never in the right way. Walk around the table and plug it in. Take headphones out of centre pocket. Leave draped to the left of the machine. Never, ever, ever to the right. Order your drink. When the baristas recognise you and start to offer you ‘the usual’, get paranoid and change. Or change out of spite, or a pathetic pretence at free will. Always answer ‘yes’ to butter and jam, even though you like neither. Wait for your drink. Add sugar and stir three times. Pick up two napkins. Try to deposit all these items on your never-level table without spilling any.
Update your spreadsheet. Writing is all about spreadsheets, at the end of the day. Better get used to it now. Watch your average output plummet. See the projected completion date slip further and further into the land of futility. Tap at the screen in the ‘hours remaining’ column, and kid yourself that you can pull the same kind of shifts you did ‘in the old days’. The ‘old days’ being any time before this spreadsheet began. On no account check the accuracy of that statement. This is about present and future despair, not regret.
Listen to the same song as you take your first sips. Ponder on the consistency and composition of fruit toast. Stare out of the window. Wonder why you ever chose such a terrible waste of chord changes as ‘your song’ for this novel. Stare out of the window.
Eventually, you may start your Scrivener session. You will hope that you left some words straggling over from the last one – otherwise you will have to read what you wrote yesterday (and that way madness truly lies). If you are lucky – very lucky- you will catch a flier, and something you saw or heard or thought about or the colour of someone’s dress or a random tweet will worm its way into your fingers and occupy them for a while. You have no real idea what it has to do with the plot, characters or price of fish, but hey, you’re writing – be pleased.
And then the nagging begins. The little pecks on the shoulder. The doubts. A child falls over outside the window. Or an old lady holds the traffic up to have a chat halfway across the junction. A bus, steaming like an overweight pig, slumps sideways across the junction, waiting for other, less piggy, vehicles to cede ground or nip impatiently past.
And *bouf* there it is. Focus gone. Concentration wandering up the street with someone’s heels or peculiar mode of transport. @Ememess wrote about the feeling in Only Forward – the sensation where you’re dreaming and you are tricked into falling awake. It is that same feeling.
You must keep dreaming. You must keep being somewhere else. Because if you look up, all you will see is reality. And all you will feel is that nagging, clawing, bitching and biting sense of despair. And you update your spreadsheet. The numbers change but the doubts grow. You pack away your things and pretend to be happy.
Tomorrow, the fear will return.