Writing Life: Why “working lunches” are an essential part of the writing process

Four years ago on a usual weekday morning, I would have woken up early, conducted research for the dissertation, worked out, took a shower, then sat back down at the desk before noon to write as much as possible in the day’s remaining hours.

“Stay focused,” I would have commanded to myself as my eyeballs slid, powerless, to the Facebook button on my favorites bar. “STAY FOCUSED!”

But, even if I resisted the near-undeniable procrastinating pull of Facebook, I’d fall prey to something else. Say, the sound of my phone, on silent, vibrating in the left hand corner of my desk. I’d pick it up, knowing I should ignore it, and I’d have a text message.

And it would be from Julie.

Most days I didn’t have to open up the message to know what it would say.

“Watcha doin’?”

Translated, that meant, “Let’s have a working lunch!”

It took less than five minutes to pack up my stuff and less than ten to get downtown and find Julie at one of our usual haunts. Fifteen minutes later I’d have a drink in hand, a lunch on the way, and, most importantly, would be GETTING DOWN TO SERIOUS BUSINESS.

Because that’s what these meetings were about. Despite the presence of drinks, a buddy, delicious foods, and strangers strolling by, we were there to work. And we did. Our dissertations, our co-edited book on The Hunger Games–we owe much of these accomplishments to our working lunches.

But we’re certainly not the only writers to work in public. Writers and artists in general have a long history with public spaces. From the eighteenth-century British coffeehouses that were hot spots of intellectual debate to today’s laptops at Starbucks, writers have often sought out the public anonymity of what we call “working lunches.” We are working independently, but still in the company of others. We are in public, but isolated within our own thoughts.

Nineteenth- and early twentieth-century writers like Charles Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin were fascinated with this idea of public anonymity, particularly in the figure of the Flâneur, a French term used to describe an individual alone in a crowd. And this, for me, is part of the appeal of working lunches–you’re alone but not alone. You are a part of the crowd, but also an observer of it.

I’ve always felt vaguely Flâneur-esque when on a working lunch and when writing in general. Writers use their experiences in the world to write, but in order to write writers also have to separate themselves from that experience in order to concentrate on craft. But THEN, we give what we created during our seclusion back to the world it came from to begin with! See? Alone, but not alone; isolated, but a part of.

Get to Lunchin’

Interested in enjoying some working lunches of your own? Go for it! Here’s some suggestions on how to make sure your working lunch is as productive as it is fun.

  • Set yourself a small goal–something that can be accomplished in an hour or so.
  • Lunch with a friend. Bring questions and problems you have with your current project that you can talk through with them.
  • Choose the right friend. While some distraction is part of the fun of a working lunch, you need a partner who’s as busy getting down to business as you are.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for a big enough space. You’ve got a computer, notebooks, pages to edit, possible books for research; your ideas need ROOM.
  • Don’t feel limited to coffee houses. We’ve lunched at sushi restaurants and pizza joints. One of our favorite locales was an Asian-Mexican fusion restaurant that turned dance club after hours (I salivate over their tequila avocado salsa. SALIVATE.)
  • Have fun! Enjoy a class of wine or a piece of cake while you’re out. Writing is hard work–you earned it!

We wish we could have working lunches with all of you guys, but alas, geography. We rarely get to have working lunches with one another! But get to lunchin’ and workin’ and let us know how much fun you had and how much work you got done!


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