Around the Writers’ Table: Where to write?

“Body doubling” at Featherstone is one popular writing spot.

The Art Barn is a quiet space for writing. —Courtesy Featherstone

Cafés have long been a makeshift office space for the writers we read. Hemingway famously penned most of “A Moveable Feast” in a Parisian cafe and J.K. Rowling has said, “It’s no secret that the best place to write, in my opinion, is in a café.”

But writing the next great read in a Vineyard coffee shop can be complicated. As Amelia Smith, a novelist who often writes for Vineyard publications, noted “I felt guilty about taking up a table and depriving the shop of revenue during tourist season. Or a few people would wander in and inevitably of course you know them, or the person working the counter, and it just becomes social hour.”

While it’s not the same as writing in a Parisian café — but what is? — Featherstone Center for the Arts offers a space with book lined shelves and a scenic view for writers to work in a room together on Sunday afternoons.

“Open Writing Hours was one of the first things I implemented when we started the Literary Arts program at Featherstone, and I have to admit it was for purely selfish reasons,” wrote Mathea Morais in an email. Morais, whose debut novel “There You Are” was published in 2019, is the director of the Featherstone program. “I struggle to focus on my writing when I’m at home as a mother of three kids, there is always someone or something other than my writing that needs my attention.”

It’s the many someones or somethings — the laundry, our email, the bushes that need pruning, the breaking news — that effortlessly and effectively steal writing days away. While the path from procrastination to prolific is often littered with snacks and naps, there are strategies to hurry one down the road. One of them is finding a public space to write in.

ShoredUp Digital’s Marnley Murray pointed out that the idea that people can work more efficiently with others around is called ”body doubling,” and has been found to be effective for people with ADHD. “The notion behind the strategy is that the presence of another person improves your ability to focus,” explained Murray.

Essayist Shelley Christiansen said, “In a writers’ space, I’m in a zone, with just a blinking cursor and a mandate: Write, woman.”

Novelist Elisa Speranza often stops by Featherstone’s open hours to write. “No distractions, complete silence, and the thrumming energy of fellow writers around me creating their sentences and paragraphs. I wish I could write better in coffee shops because I love that notion, but one annoying soundtrack or intriguing conversation to overhear, and I’m distracted from my work.”

Kate Altman, who is writing down stories from her life, has been going to Featherstone’s open writing hours since July. “There’s something about writing with others that creates its own energy, while together we quietly focus on our individual efforts, not unlike what you might find in a yoga class or at church or in a sewing circle,” she explained. “And I like the quiet, because I cannot write a word where there’s noise. The only sound here comes from the tapping of keyboards. We all get it, that focus is hard sometimes, and getting stuff done is important. It’s like we are cheering each other on, without ever talking, except maybe after hours.”

Curious to find out where else writers on the Vineyard liked to go to write, I posted a query on Facebook. Here are a few of the responses I received:

Brenda L Horrigan: When I’m having trouble focusing in my home office, I go to the libraries. My faves are Edgartown (they have two small rooms that hold only one-two) and West Tisbury (larger public quiet room with plenty of plugs for computers).

Gerry Yukevich: I like the Vineyard Haven Public Library — cool in summer, warm in winter — always diversions of periodicals, literature, reference books, children exploring books and new ideas — but mostly just peace and comfort. I picked up a copy of “The Confessions of Nat Turner” from the shelf and was inspired by an inscription by the author, which said he had written passages from that classic in the VHPL. Good enough for me. Thanks, Mr. Styron.

Lisa Belcastro: I love writing on planes, the Peter Pan Bus to Logan, sitting in airports, any place I have a chunk of time to get some thoughts down.


Book Notes

Edgartown Books is teaming up with the Carnegie Heritage Center for author talks with former MV Times calendar editor Perry Garfinkel as their first speaker. Garfinkel will be discussing his new book, “Becoming Gandhi” (Sounds True U.S.A.), on Saturday, April 13, 2 pm.

The Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing is offering two fellowships to Vineyard writers for their summer writing conferences. Full and part-time Island residents are welcome to apply. The deadline is May 1.

Congratulations to Vineyard resident Jorie Graham, whose book of poetry “To 2024” (Copper Canyon Press) was recently shortlisted for the prestigious Griffin Poetry Prize.
Publishers weekly’s recent staff picks for great 2024 summer reads included seasonal resident Patricia J. Williams’ upcoming book “The Miracle of the Black Leg: Notes on Race, Human Bodies, and the Spirit of the Law” (The New Press).

Open Writing Hours at Featherstone Center for the Arts are on Sundays from 1 to 3 pm. 

Around the Writers’ Table is a column about writers and writing on the Vineyard. Please email with your writing-related or book news.