Inspiration, Where Art Thou?


To look at social media—which I am doing less and less—one could be forgiven for thinking that humanity may not have been capable of writing (and perhaps reading) before the advent of Starbucks. The topic of writing in Starbucks seems to generate considerable emotion among writers. Some are for it, some even with scientific reasons, and some are against it.

For my writing challenge to myself, I have found the best way to consistently get the words out is to write early in the morning before anyone else is downstairs. This post is an exception—I’m writing in the evening sitting in bed. Sometimes I write more than one post per day. I’ve learned that being a few days ahead gives me a cushion to meet my goal more or less.

For most of my adult life, I have been a “knowledge worker” though I would not have labeled myself as such. By definition, the job of a pastor/priest/chaplain is to produce an intellectual product as opposed to a physical one. Sermons are creative work. I also enjoy reading and study. I am a three R’s kind of guy: reading, ‘riting, and ruminating. All of these activities can fall within the definition of “deep work,” of which Cal Newport is a proponent. I really enjoy Newport’s blog and am looking forward to reading his new book. He defines deep work as “the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.” That’s a skill I try to cultivate.

Part of distraction-free work is the environment, but where that is achieved can change. Offices are horrible, generally, especially open-concept office or “cube-farms.” If I’m never stuck in another cubicle as long as I live it will be too soon, and I only endured one for 2.5 years. Part of my revulsion to a doorless office is my introverted nature—distractions drain me and the suck my attention. (I’m jealous of my introverted wife’s ability to tune almost anything out.)

I am very much in favor of clergy having studies instead of offices. It is not just a question of semantics—words mean things and what we call something confers purpose. An office may be largely devoid of books, but not a study. A study is designed to minimize distraction and maximize thoughtful reflection and creative output. I have an office at work and I am amazed sometimes how hard it is to get anything of substance done there. My desk at home is my study.

So what does all this have to do with Starbucks? It’s not a bad place. I’ve ventured there (or Panera Bread) from time to time to drink coffee and read. This usually happen when I’m out anyway and want to grab some time to read. Sometimes a change of scenery can help revive the creativity. Just getting up and walking around can help clear cobwebs that start to form in my mind on occasion when I’m reading.

Ultimately, creativity is wherever you find it, though I think there is much to be said for a consistent place and time. From reading others and from my own experience, this is the bedrock of putting words on paper. The occasional trip to get coffee and a different table to work at for an hour or two is a good supplement. Writing is not unlike prayer and a great truth about praying is that you should “pray as you can, not as you cannot.” A corollary for writing is to write where you can.


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