Where do I work? Hmmm…That’s a good question

By Brett Battles

I don’t mind saying I’ve been a little nervous about this post since we here at Murderati decided to do a workspace theme (two) week(s). See the answer to what’s your workplace like, is not exactly a straight forward one for me. Let’s start with where, first. The simple answer to that is this is where:

(I’m talking about the world, not the wall where my map is hanging. And, yes, I also keep all my lanyards.) Okay, perhaps that’s a little over stating, and I’m certainly not trying to be flippant or snobby. But the truth is, I tend to work away from home more than I work at home. And if I’m traveling I might work in my hotel room, at the coffee shop on the corner, on the train, at a bar…wherever. Also I’m doing a lot of research while I’m traveling…taking notes, pictures, movies…getting impressions of where I’m at, etc.

But let’s stick to the actual writing process. If I’m being completely honest I do most of it when I’m not traveling. Still, there is the question of where. To answer that I need to break down my process into four parts: plotting/synopsizing, writing the book, rewriting 1 (editor’s notes, light passes), rewriting 2 (copy edits, read through, heavy rewrites).

These four parts are basically done in one of two different places: home or away from home. Plotting/synopsizing and rewriting 2 (the heavy stuff) are almost always done at home. I do a lot of talking to myself in these phases, and also some pacing and the like, so the privacy works out for me. At home, I work at my small dining room table.

Trust me, it’s usually not that clean. As you can see, I face a nice view of a green courtyard. Very soothing.

As I said, I do a lot of plotting here. So I thought I’d show you some of the tools I use:

Let’s start on that back wall…my famous giant post-its are a big help. Each page tears off and I can stick them to other walls around my place. Then there’s the dry erase board. What I do there is once I’ve filled it, I’ll take a digital photo of it then erase it and start again. On the table left to right, back row first: dry erase pens and cleaner, my MacBook, my iPad with keyboard dock (used for research, and typing when traveling), my iPhone in front of that which allows me to work away from home but not be out of touch, and one of my two digital cameras – the one shown is water proof. (I also have an HD video camera, but I tend to use the video on my digital cameras more often.) Front row from left: pad of grid paper for making building layouts and maps, set of color pencils, regular ruler and drafting ruler, my work tracking booklet where I keep track of what I do daily (word counts, what project I’m on, any significant events), digital card adaptors for iPad and computer to transfer photos, my docking cord for phone and iPad, stack of note books each for a separate project that I take with me as needed, colored index cards, and, finally, colored sharpies.

As an example of how my process is continually changing, the index cards are a recent addition, used with the new book I’ve just started writing.

Okay, so that’s my home workspace, and tools. What about those other two parts of my process – writing and rewriting 1? Those I do for the most part away from home. Why? Because for some reason when I’m creating new material the distractions at my house (TV, books, bed for napping) tear my attention away. So I go to coffee shops or cafes. For the past year and a half, I’ve found one specific place I go to most of the time. It’s the Novel Café in Santa Monica.

There are actually several Novel Cafes. Our own Mr. Schwartz turned me onto them. Only the one he exposed me to is now known as 212 Pier. I stopped going there when they shut it down for renovations when the new owners took over, and ended up going to the Novel that’s only about four blocks away. It’s newer and not quite as quirky, but I like it, and so I’ve stayed. It’s about a 20 minute drive from my place, and makes me feel like I’m going to an office…in a good way. It gets my brain focused in the right direction. Plus the cafe is set up for people to work there all day. Free wi-fi, plenty of tables and plugs, and a full kitchen. You can stay from opening to closing and they won’t kick you out. In fact, there are a lot of regulars who, like me, use it as their office, too. Web designers, screenwriters, other media professionals, and even a few other novelist (which is good since that’s the name of the shop.) I often run into my friend and mega-talented author Tim Hallinan there. We’ll end up spending a few hours writing at adjacent tables…well, writing, talking, writing…talking.

Here’s a shot of my favorite table looking out at the rest of the café:

It’s tucked into a little nook for those who want a little more privacy. This table is at the edge of that area, so I get some privacy, but also can watch what’s going on everywhere else. And as a good thriller writer, I can see the front door, so I know who’s entering in case I need to make a quick getaway out the back. (Hasn’t happened yet.)

And a reverse angle of the table:

Yeah, you’re not seeing things. Those are surfboards. A surf school operates out of a room in the back of the café. Oh, and that area just behind my table, with the open, black curtain? That’s home to a clairvoyant who keeps really odd hours and I hardly ever see her. But I’m hoping some of her psychic vibes are wafting over me as I write. 

Anywho…those are my workspaces. At least for now. My process is always in a state of transformation.

43 thoughts on “Where do I work? Hmmm…That’s a good question

  1. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    You're tempting me to move cafes, brother Brett. If only YOUR Novel were open 24 hours, like MY Novel (okay, 212 Pier) is!
    It would be cool if you, me and Tim sat next to each other and pumped out a few novels, factory style. I'll do Act One, pass it off to you for Act Two, you pass it off to Tim for Act Three. We'd go through a lot of coffee that way.

  2. PK the Bookeemonster

    But what happens if someone is at your preferred table or do people just avoid it, knowing you'll be there? And, you didn't have to clean up, it's just us. 🙂

  3. Dudley Forster

    Do you listen to music or just tune out the café noise? Only in California would you find a coffee shop where writers hang that has a clairvoyant and a surf school.

  4. Brett Batles

    PK…I usually get there right when they open around 7:45 am. There's only been a couple times out of hundreds when someone else was at that table, but when they were I just found some other table…didn't let that bother my work flow. Cleaning up was a pure matter of timing. My kids and I had had diner there just an hour before I took the shot, so had cleaned off the table for that.

  5. Jen Forbus

    I have to ask the most important question. Is this the cafe where you get the awesome grilled cheese sandwiches? If it is, I think THAT'S what keeps you there. 🙂 Fun stuff Brett.

  6. Debbie

    Hey Brett, did you suddenly change the spelling of your last name? I heard that doing so increased sales for one author on Amazon! I wonder if we have writing cafes in Toronto. How does a place like this make money? Is there a membership fee or something? Hey, I could open one and write just as soon as I change my name!

  7. Stephen Blackmoore

    For some reason I thought you were back at the place on Pier. I haven't seen it since they renovated it. If it's 24 hours then hell, I definitely need to head down there. Let me know if you hit it again.

    How are you liking the index cards? I've never been able to wrap my brain around a use for them. How are you using them?

  8. Cornelia Read

    I'm with RGB–I don't know if I could handle the noise of the cafe, and I can no longer listen to music when I write. I guess I could wear earplugs, which is what I used to do when I was writing and my ex was listening to conservative hate radio in the next room.

    This is such a great post, and I love the giant post-it notes…

  9. Brett Battles

    Thanks, Louise and Pari…sorry about the clean desk. That was not planned. As previously mentioned, had used the table for dinner only an hour or so beforehand.

  10. Brett Battles

    No name change, Debbie. In fact I didn't notice the problem until you mentioned it. Think I have my name input wrong on my iPad…will check that when I get home tonight. No membership fee either. There are plenty of people who come in and out for breakfast and lunch to keep this place going, I think…hope!

  11. Brett Battles

    Stephen…haven't been to Pier since the change in ownership. Just kind of settled in here and stayed. Since I write in the day, 24hours doesn't really help me much, but Mr. Schwartz is a night owl so I can see how that appeals to him. Juries still out on the index cards. I used them by putting a lot of random ideas and such on them (one idea per card), then taping them to my wall and seeing what went together.

  12. Grace

    Love the cafe. Something very nostalgic about writers and cafes – reminds me of Hemingway/Fitgerald days. Your ability to focus must be over the wall, I'm afraid I couldn't manage it.

  13. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Wish I could do the cafe thing, that one looks so cool. I do sometimes go to cafes to outline, but I can only ever go a couple of hours and then I feel burnt and cranky. The only time it really works for me is when I'm editing or doing galley corrections.

  14. judy wirzberger

    I want Debbie to read my drafts. What an eye.

    Brett, how interesting that you have two different writing arenas depending on what you're writing. I can see where that would add an interesting element to revision. Let me know if the clairvoyant runs out screaming. "Quick, out the back door, the zombie surfers are coming for their boards. Wait. Here's a grilled cheese sandwich to go."

  15. Allison Brennan

    Please, please, please tell me you are not as organized as your desk appears . . .

    I, too, do a lot of writing away from home. But it's local, to escape the kids. :/

    I really love the idea of giant post-it notes, however . . .

  16. Brett Battles

    Thanks Alex, Grace and Judy!

    Allison…sometimes it's neat, sometimes not. It's a dual purposes table – a place to eat when my kids are there, and a desk when their not. The picture is from the transitional period…it's already messier now even though I'm doing most of my work from the cafe!

  17. Debbie

    I just read this, written by Steven Beattie about writing in cafes, and wanted to share since it made me laugh. Please understand, nothing is meant to be read into this quote:
    "I like to read and write in public places, in part because I find it a bit subversive to engage in activities that are so defiantly solitary while out in a crowd. It's not EXACTLY like masturbating in public, but it comes close."

    Judy, I don't want to come across as pedantic and I make lots of mistakes myself (double letters that get missed, mirrored keystrokes like i instead of e…). I only mentioned this because it's Brett's name. (Sorry.) As for a peek at someone's work, I mean an opportunity to help, I'd b honoured (and fired just as fast when I got into the story and forgot to proofread, missing any and all typo's!)
    Rati, out of curiosity, if you had a sample of your novel posted would you want to know if there was a typo, or would that just be annoying?

    Brett, I envy that dining room-if I were to work in mine, I'd have to kick the Cheerios out from under foot and wash through a layer of God only knows what that's been stuck there for an indeterminate time or risk hiring a contractor/surgeon to remove my computer when the next meal rolled around!

  18. toni mcgee causey

    Okay, if no one else is going to ask THE most important freaking question, then I will:

    Where in the hell do you get those really big post it notes?

    No, really, where? I haven't seen those at my local office supply place.

    I love the tour of the tools. Like RGB and Louise, I couldn't write in a cafe, but unlike RGB, I do listen to music–well, with this book. I didn't listen to much on the previous books.

  19. tess gerritsen

    I love giant Post-its too. I tend to stick them on my first-draft longhand pages, when i suddenly think of something I want to add to the text. And writing in a cafe sounds great, except don't you feel weird having people able to watch you work? It would keep me from talking to myself, which is what I do a lot of while I'm writing.

  20. JB Lynn

    I never thought of taking a pic of my dry erase board — thanks so much for sharing that tip!

    My local Staples just started carrying the giant wall post-its, can't wait to try them out!

  21. Catherine

    Brett I'm also impressed that you can type on the train. Earlier this week my only seating option was to share a seat facing another person. I'm short and it was a challenge to type with my knees almost tucked up to my chest. (slight exaggeration, only slight) I did find that I can concentrate well in a crowd with my ipod though. Which sort of surprised me as usually at home I love silence.

    For some reason I find one of my local cafes good for getting quick bursts of plotting work done, but I only bring a notebook. It's a small town here and if I was to sit at some cafes I'd never get any work done because people are way too interested in each other's business. The places with good food usually don't have the tables to spare for long term visits. I love the idea of a place that welcomes the long day client. I'm hoping too that I can find those massive post its here in Australia. Will check a major supplier here as back to the city again today.

  22. Brett Battles

    Sounds like I should have bought Post it (3M) stock!

    Tess…a lot of people working here, so no one really stares at anyone else. If they do, you soon realize they're not really looking at you, but staring off into space, thinking.

    No problem, JB!

    Catherine, I'm not on a train often, but when I am, it's just another space to work if I'm in the mood. Hope you find the post its!

  23. Pop Culture Nerd

    I'm not buying that "I just had dinner so my table's clean" excuse. Where are the crumbs? Ketchup stains? Pod-person alert!

    This is great, Brett. Love the glimpse into your workspace. Are those moleskine notebooks in the stack?

    I have to always watch the door when I'm in a restaurant, too. I also like the seat next to a window facing the parking lot so I can see who's coming BEFORE they get to the door. I don't know who I think I'll see but that's the way it is.

    It's nice seeing that photo of the sandwich and fries again. Which reminds me, gotta go have lunch.

  24. Brett Battles


    PCN…Indeed, the whole stack is moleskin! I LOVE the ones with the brown, cardboard covers the most. And that sandwich was delicious. Didn't have one today, though. They had a chicken tostada special, and I always get that when I can. And on the table…fine…I DID wipe it down first.

  25. Dudley Forster

    Brett – I wish I’d thought about taking a pic of my dry erase board. I kept mine on the floor, propped against the desk. One day I came home to find my 3 year old granddaughter had used it to draw lots of pretty pictures for me. I’ve never thought of drawing out street & building plans for mysteries and thrillers. I know it's used for world building in epic fantasy. In college, I played way too much D & D (old school pen & paper) most of the time as the dungeon master, he’s the one who creates the world, backstory, adventure and NPCs. As such, I have designed a lot of dungeons and once a whole city on a 4’x6’ piece of graph paper. I'm going to try it and see if it works for me, thanks for sharing.

  26. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Brett

    I just have one question about the giant Post-Its – have you ever thought of writing smaller?

    I do occasionally work in cafés – and doctor's waiting rooms, hospitals, but usually it's in the car.

    And gotta have music!

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