The Best Place to Write

Today’s guest is Ilene Schneider, one of the first women rabbis ordained in the U.S.. She has decided what she wants to be when she grows up: a full time writer. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Chanukah Guilt, the award-winning Unleavened Dead and other mysteries. Her latest book is Yom Killer. She also has several non-fiction books published. She lives in New Jersey with her rabbi husband.

I’ve written in the past about how I can’t write at home. In February, 2010, I posted my reasons in my blog: “At home, even if no one else is there, the dirty clothes call out to me. Then I’m listening for the washing machine to stop. Then the dryer buzzes. And buzzes. And buzzes. Until I finally give in and fold the clean clothes. Then I notice the unread paper on the kitchen table and decide to take a “few minutes” to read it. An hour or so later, I finish the comics and hear the mail truck. I chat with the mail deliverer (his sister lives at the end of the cul-de-sac), sort through the mail, dump the solicitations and ads into the recycling, decide the bag is getting full and take it out to the recycling can. By now, the second load of laundry in the dryer is buzzing. And buzzing. And buzzing. For some reason, I decide the underwear absolutely must be folded immediately, and the underpants sorted by color. Those chores done (others beckon, but I ignore them), I sit back down at the dining room table in front of the laptop, glance out the window into the backyard, and notice my bird feeders are empty. And the bird baths need to be not just refilled but scrubbed to get rid of the squirrel poop. I’m wondering if I have time to go to one of the two wild bird supply stores in the area (each one seven miles away, in opposite directions) for more suet or mealworms or whatever …” You get the idea.

 I have two “offices” and alternate between them. One is Starbucks; the other is Dunkin’ Donuts. Finding a Dunkin’ Donuts in my area of South Jersey is like looking for a Starbucks in Seattle. If you’re not standing in front of one, look down the block. There will be two.

 They have the same benefits: fattening snacks and drinks. And lots of outlets for plugging in my laptop. But I also find the low ambient noise in those places – noise that has nothing to do with me – helps me focus. I learned why it worked when I read a report that students really do study better in the student center or a coffee shop. I was vindicated!

 Oops. Not so fast. It turns out that there is just as much research proving the opposite: distractions interfere with the absorption and retention of new information. But … ah ha! … I then read: “… a moderate level of ambient noise actually is ideal for creative thinking. Apparently, moderate noise increases processing difficulty, which in turn promotes abstract processing. In other words, the extra work our brain has to do while processing a problem or task in a relatively noisy environment gives us the extra push we need to find more creative solutions.” (

 Yes! I was right! I do work better in a public space!

 There are, of course, disadvantages, too: having someone I know come up to me and ask if I’m working on my next book, while I’m actually on Facebbook or watching “EastEnders” on BritBox. And the other customers, who are job applicants being interviewed in the early afternoon, raucous middle school and high school students in the late afternoon, and students meeting with their tutors in the evening. And the parent group that took over every table and chair for a meeting to plan a dance recital.

 Plus, there is the huge wall-mounted TV perpetually tuned to Fox News in the Dunkin’ Donuts closest to my home. Usually, the volume of the music playing overhead is loud enough I can tune out the TV, especially if I’m sitting at a table on the other side of the room with my back to it. Usually, but not always. Recently, during the above-mentioned parent meeting, the only available seat was an easy chair under the TV. So I put on earbuds and logged onto BritBox. And ordered a fattening snack and drink. I’m sure I’ll eventually figure out how to use the experience in my next book.







6 thoughts on “The Best Place to Write

  1. I enjoyed the blog post, but unlike you, I cannot write in a place where there is any noise or other people. The only time I tried that – at a McDonald’s when my kids were young and could play on the McDonald’s playground – I got so absorbed in people-watching, I forgot to write. However, I did get some good material for the column I wrote at the time for a local newspaper. It was a humorous column, in the vein of Erma Bombeck, and I got a whole column out of the fact that I was not a responsible parent according to the helicopter mom whose kid was playing with mine. When my son came down a slide too fast and took a tumble at the end, I wiped his tears, told him he was fine and sent him back to play. Helicopter mom thought I should have taken him to an ER for x-rays.

    • Glad you enjoyed my blog.

      I know what you mean about helicopter moms. I actually told the school nurse not to call unless the boys had a fever. And if there was no blood, I ignored falls.

      I also know about people watching. I’ve based a few background characters on snippets of conversations I’ve overheard.

  2. I wish I could join you at either place. I can certainly relate to all those nagging chores which call out to me at home, but I’ve gotten pretty good at ignoring dusty rugs and tables, cats crying for food, messy litter boxes, unmade beds, and a husband who reads me articles from The NY Times. I live 15 miles from the nearest Dunkin Donuts which is why I don’t go there to write or snack and why I’m only ten pounds over weight instead of a whopping forty pounds (my fridge is usually empty of anything interesting to east although lately I’ve been eyeing my cat’s canned cat food (gourmet duck and peas-yum!).
    Love your funny, funny books.

    • Thank you.

      In some ways, going to coffee shops helps me control my eating. I’m nervous about having any food, especially liquids, near my laptop. I’m too much of a klutz. So I only eat when I’m taking a break. Unfortunately, I take too many of them!

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