Fully Caffeinating Your Writing Environment

30 Jun

The Scene 

This morning, I’m writing in a quiet space with three coffee cups at hand

Image of 3 coffee cups: one at a coffeeshop, one for the Caffeine software, one for Coffitivity software

I have placed a properly hot and unadorned mug of coffee beside my computer.  I have opened the Caffeine application that will keep this Mac from going to sleep for the entire span of morning writing.  Throughout the three hours, I’ll be able to consult writing notes or go for a next cuppa without coming back to screen asking me to enter that annoyingly long university-required password.  

Once I have earbuds in place (there are others working in this on-campus conference room for a weekly writing meet up), I open Coffitivity, an app that delivers sounds of a small coffeeshop, which I can stream along with my iTunes playlists.

The Resources

After participating in a weeklong writing retreat, I posted our “Annual Summer Writing Tips and Tools Post” in early June to feature a Freewriting Focus.  While tracking down links to share in that post,  I was also reminded of research from 2012 that confirmed the important role of ambient noise in “promoting abstract processing, which subsequently leads to higher creativity” (Mehta, et al; also reported in Villarica).   That Google search also included links to Coffitivity, which provides both a streaming platform and downloadable app to people who want to surround themselves with coffeeshop sounds wherever they may be working.

As someone who has been rubbish about making time during a work day to work on longer writing projects, I have found that the Coffetivity app provides a positive nudge in claiming a 15 minute chunk of writing time – or two – in an ordinary day.  Coffitivity works to block out the work-related conversations going on around me.  Rather than hearing the hallway or nearby copy room conversation, the Coffitivity din lets me enter another place: The coffeeshop where Morning Murmur, Lunchtime Sounds, and University Undertones are sound choices I can make with a simple click on the tiny Coffitivity icon at the top of my screen. The simultaneous streaming of Coffitivity’s coffeeshop sounds with my own iTunes playlists provides a double benefit for those of us who write with music.

I find that I don’t  “save up” writing “tasks” for those once a week, nighttime hunkerings at a neighbourhood coffeeshop, and I am ready to draft longer writing when I’ve landed at the on campus writing mornings.  I have also used Coffitivity to create a coffeeshop “vibe” on the back porch at my flat when I first land at home, or I grab 15 minutes later in the evening when an idea I’ve been carrying in mind takes shape.  “Coffitivity take me away….” for a slice of time from the sounds of neighbors laughing, something on the telly that I really don’t want to watch, and sounds of nearby well-traveled road traffic that would work otherwise to tell me I’m not in one of my “usual writing places.”  

As a final bit of caffeination, I want to return to the Caffeine app I mentioned at this start of this post.  My Fall Semester co-teacher introduced the app to facilitate our in-class computer sharing.  Downloading this tiny program allowed me to put an icon in the menu bar that I can click to tell my Mac to stay awake, to not dim the screen, to not pull up screen savers, and – most important – to not require frequent re-entry of passwords or resetting within the system preferences menu.  In co-teaching, this meant we didn’t need to learn one another’s computer passwords as we could tell our computers to “stay awake” for time increments spanning from 5 minutes to “indefinitely.”  Android versions of the app are also available.

And, as I tool for those sustained writing periods I don’t have to be bothered to re-enter my stupidly long password when I walk away for the next cup of coffee or pause the typing to review research materials or (gasp!) to do some freewriting by hand.  I quite welcome this feature when I’ve been staring out the window ruminating possibilities – and can simply start typing the suddenly clear idea rather than having to stumble my fingers into the right password keystrokes.

The Wrap

Screen Shot 2014-06-27 at 11.10.39

In the screenshot above, you’ll see the Caffeine icon at the left, with Coffitivity next to it.  Tiny apps that make big contributions to my writing life.  Wherever I have landed to write, I can wrap myself with the sounds, tastes and smells (ah, freshly brewed coffee or steaming Earl Grey) of my favourite – and most productive – writing place: the coffee nooks on campus and coffeeshops in my neighbourhoods.

This happy little mind trickery is working for me – someone who hasn’t liked writing at home for a lifetime.  On most ordinary days I can report I have written and I do see evidence during those sustained writing periods away from home that Iam  more fluent in composing longer pieces of writing.  

Perhaps you, too, will find these tools a useful addition to your own more fully caffeinated writing life.

Apps Referenced

Mac – http://download.cnet.com/Caffeine/3000-2094_4-10914397.html
Android – https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=nl.syntaxa.caffeine

Coffitivity: http://coffitivity.com/
Available for streaming on the web; downloadable app for iOS, OS X, Android, and Kindle 

Articles Referenced

Hans Villarica.  “Study of the Day: Why Crowded Coffee Shops Fire Up Your Creativity” Atlantic  20 June 2012.  http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/06/study-of-the-day-why-crowded-coffee-shops-fire-up-your-creativity/258742/.

From Villarica’s report: CONCLUSION: The next time you’re stumped on a creative challenge, head to a bustling coffee shop, not the library. As the researchers write in their paper, “[I]nstead of burying oneself in a quiet room trying to figure out a solution, walking out of one’s comfort zone and getting into a relatively noisy environment may trigger the brain to think abstractly, and thus generate creative ideas.”

Ravi Mehta, Rui Zhu, Amar Cheema. “Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition?  The Journal of Consumer Research 39.14 (December 2012): 784-799.  http://www.jstor.org/stable/info/10.1086/665048.

The Authors’ Abstract: This paper examines how ambient noise, an important environmental variable, can affect creativity. Results from five experiments demonstrate that a moderate (70 dB) versus low (50 dB) level of ambient noise enhances performance on creative tasks and increases the buying likelihood of innovative products. A high level of noise (85 dB), on the other hand, hurts creativity. Process measures reveal that a moderate (vs. low) level of noise increases processing difficulty, inducing a higher construal level and thus promoting abstract processing, which subsequently leads to higher creativity. A high level of noise, however, reduces the extent of information processing and thus impairs creativity.


4 Responses to “Fully Caffeinating Your Writing Environment”

  1. Laura Steckley 4 July 2014 at 2:41 pm #

    I’m new to your blog and I just wanted to post a quick comment about how much I liked your piece. Not only do I dislike writing at home, I dislike writing full stop. Yet somehow I manage to do a fair bit of writing, partly because I have to for the job and partly because I really like having written.

    For a good few years, I’ve been interested in writing environments and creative ways to facilitate better writing and better writing experiences. Your piece gives further food for thought on the subjects, along with some practical help.

    Many thanks!

    • UMinnTeachLearn 4 July 2014 at 11:42 pm #

      Cheers to food for practical thought with regards to writing. That combo of pleasure from “having written” combined with learning to be – and find others who were – a good reader/responder keeps me finding ways to create writing environments that can work for me. Will look forward to talking more about this!

  2. Tim G. 10 July 2014 at 8:55 am #

    Interesting studies! I’ve long felt that I need absolute quiet for writing–but this post makes me consider allowing some ambient noise.

    • UMinnTeachLearn 10 July 2014 at 9:59 am #

      The related thing I’ve been tracking is what environment(s) I need select when reading, and how that varies with what or why I am reading, and with whether I have many, some or no adaptations to the ambiance that “come with” the place I find myself when reading. Curious what others are experiencing as readers – and, of course, about how this shifts across years.

      Quiet seems to be winning out with reading and more noise with writing. I’m noticing patterns shifting – becoming more adaptable in writing whatever the place/circumstances, and less so in when it comes to readings. Perhaps that’s about developing agility in gaining experience as a writer, while needing to quiet ideas outside my brain while simultaneously reading new ideas and sifting through ideas lingering from years of good book reading.

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