I’ve been writing in coffee shops for the last eighteen years. I wish I could say I did it for clever creative reasons, like I was dressing my characters in my surroundings, eavesdropping for dialogue, and reading faces for subtext, but really, writing in public just feels less lonely.
At first I entertained the fantasy that a manic pixie dream girl would pull up a stool beside me, glimpse at the wall of text on my screen, raise her eyebrow, and ask, “What are you writing?” (Which did happen… once.) At this point my goals have more to do with my word count for the day.
But I have been that guy, that guy that pitches his stories to baristas washing dishes at the bar, that guy whose day dreaming eyes lingered in the wrong direction a little too long, that guy whose head is so far up his own ass that he gives out his blog address instead of his phone number. You know, that guy, the writer who wears his identity on his sleeve.
Sure, I might have been a caricature, but at least I did the work. I was writing. I was a writer. I did the noun so I got to call myself the verb. Still I met my share of people who did one but not the other: men adopting the persona of a writer as a pretense to hit on women.
I call them “idea men.” They’re fun, charismatic, and commanding. They’ve honed engaging elevator pitches, but they don’t have the attention span to sit their asses in the chair and do the work. Their bibliography is but a theory. They’re the modern equivalent of the medieval minstrel, carrying on an oral tradition for the sake of flirtation.
I shouldn’t let these idea men get to me, but I do. Writing is hard. Finishing a novel is tough, selling it is tougher, letting an editor kill all your darlings can be even tougher still. If you’ve spent years crafting something that didn’t connect with anyone it’s hard to coax yourself to try it again, but those are the responsibilities that come with calling yourself a writer. It takes talent, training, and tenacity (and you’ve still got to get lucky).
It irks me when I overhear a pickup artist slip on the identity of a writer when it’s clear they haven’t done the work. It irks because I’m afraid that’s what other people assume I’m doing. I feel guilty by proxy.
That having been said I’ve written a how-to guide just for the fakers, the idea men, the pick up artists. I dare you to indulge me as I role-play with misogyny (and if this leaves a bad taste in your mouth, that’s kind of the point).
How to Pretend to be a Writer for the Express Purpose of Picking Up Women
So you’re new to the city. You just started college and you’re trying to figure out what you want to be. You’re slowly learning that “chick magnet” is not an occupation, but it’s the one you want.
You’ve found that ambling across the dance floor, bumping up to women, and saying, “I exist, any takers?” is an insufficient method for achieving your aims. Copulation is proving more complicated than anticipated. It turns out that female psychology plays an instrumental role in their sexuality, but how to engage their minds just enough to get access to their bodies?
All the seduction science you’ve researched has been debunked. You’ve found pickup artists lacking in artistic temperaments. All those counterfeit Cupids, charlatan cherubs, and quack life coaches have left you a virgin.
You need a new shtick.
Too bad you’ve got shit for wit. Too bad you lack the psychological stamina to carry a premise to a punch line. Too bad you’re just not that interesting.
If only you had the coordination to make it as a musician or a magician, but you don’t.
If only you could learn a skill, not a coping skill, mind you (no sense turning inward and adjusting your expectations of the type of romance you’re entitled to, that’s not what we’re here to do.)
What if you could be something that no one would ever bother doing a background check on? You could be a writer. Why not? No one reads any more. It’s the perfect cover. It doesn’t matter that you don’t read either. You know stories. You watch movies. You could come up with a handful of plotlines and dust them off at the right time. How hard could it be?
Peacocking Versus Owling
If you want a woman to love you for your mind, not your actual mind, mind you, but the idea of your mind, you’ll need to put out a visionary vibe, give off an artistic aura, and cultivate your creative charisma.
Pickup artists go on about peacocking, i.e. showcasing your plumage to attract a mate. That’s why their heads are always drowning in cashmere scarves, beaded braids, and eye shadow. You’ll be applying a similar concept, but instead of peacocking you’re going to be “owling” giving off a wise learned vibe.
Let me just rip the Band-Aid off and say it. You’re going to need to buy an ascot. You’re going to need to walk up to the counter of a retail store, look a clerk dead in the eyes, and say, “This floral patterned silken-neck-skirt is for me.”
Then you’re going to need a tweed blazer. Professors like to wear theirs’ with leather patches on the elbows, but you’re owling so you’ll need patches all the way down your shoulders to your wrists. If it looks like you’ve patched a leather jacket with a handful of tweed strips then you’re doing it right.
Now peacocks own the club scene, just like eagles own hotel lounges, and vultures own AA meetings. So what can an owl call his hunting ground?
Enter the Coffee House
A bookish boy looking to score his ideal librarian has got to take his action to where most of them go to be alone. The coffee house, where the rest of your peers are studying, you’re going make your scene.
Since coffee shops are bug zappers for writers you need to up your game if you want to look like you’re the only one who truly belongs there.
Push your stool into the center of the aisle and stand at the bar. You need to show everyone that you are the ergonomic authority up in this bitch. Now would be a good time to invest in an haute couture vanity back brace.
Line the bar with your “research materials,” travel guides, wine bibles, and other topics chicks dig. These books are conversation starters, nothing more. Still it’s important to fold the spines so that it appears as though you’ve actual read them.
Now lengthen your accordion laptop stand, strap on your arthritis gloves, and get to clickety clacking. Hit that keyboard like a percussion instrument. If a neighboring Tinder date goes off without a series of awkward looks in your direction you’re doing it wrong.
If you want to one up all those poets scrawling ink in their sad little memo pads, set a portable hydro spa on the counter and float your fingers between “chapters.”
And if you really want to be a baller consider this: any trust fund typist can rock a shiny pair of designer headphones, but it takes a real writer to drop a full-blown victrola on the counter.
Have a Signature Move
Plagiarize a penniless but profound poet. Copy and paste their work into your own document. Enlarge the font and ask the target of your affection to watch your computer as you go to the bathroom. Set a timer for five minutes.
Catch up on sports scores, watch porn, or actually use the toilet I don’t care, but once the time is up go back to your seat and blush your way through a conversation on the poem you left open.
Tell Don’t Show
Just remember you’re not there to write. Writing is hard. It requires patience (a skill you have no intention of learning). So don’t waste your time researching structure, style, and story. If you’re engaging strangers in conversation they’re not going to be interested in the technical aspects of your craft. Most people just want to hear about a clever premise and a twist. In fact, you should just distill your pitch into some version of “It’s this meets this.”
It’s Groundhog’s Day meets The Notebook. It’s Pulp Fiction meets Love Actually. It’s Being John Malkovich meets Pretty Woman. Fuck it. It’s not like you’re writing any of this nonsense down anyway.
These are my actual closing thoughts. Not the preceding character’s, but my own, as in me, Drew Chial, the author.
I’ve always feared being called an imposter. Yes, I write every god damn day, but there are no shortages of assholes that think artists only do what we do to get laid. That’s why these assholes learned to play Wonder Wall on the acoustic guitar, that’s what, they assume, all art exists for. Never mind the desire to broaden the language of emotion, or the desire to give physical substance to our dreams. Never mind humanity’s search for meaning. They presume we are all just as simple as they are.
As far as those assholes are concerned we’ll pack it all in once we get married and cross the finish line. I swear, this isn’t me virtue signaling so much as I’m openly resenting some people’s lack of imagination.
Art isn’t (just) about the fringe benefits, the audience adoration, or the moral desert. The process of making art can be rewarding in and of itself. Many of us working so hard to make a living at it do so for the privilege to make art it full time. That’s it.