The Third Place

Thursday, May 25, 2017
“We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.”
— Winston Churchill

Earlier this evening I sent an email to an editor about the ending of my story slated for fall publication in Kansas City Voices (yay!). She had suggested developing an ending that ties together the beginning, which is a great idea, but I'm having trouble coming up with a way to do that. Without thinking, I told her I would go to Starbucks for a change of scenery and work there to get the creative juices flowing. After I wrote that, I wondered if it's really true, do I have better ideas when I write in a different place?

Last night I was watching the 80s/90s television show Cheers, starring Ted Danson. Cheers was the name of a local hangout/bar for several lovable, eclectic characters, which is epitomized in the theme song "Where Everybody Knows Your Name." Sociologists would call Cheers a third place. First is your home, second is your workplace, and the third place is where you gather voluntarily to socialize while enjoying the atmosphere.

A third place can be where people hang out and eat or drink coffee (cafe) or alcohol (bar). A barber shop or hair salon also might be considered a third place, depending on the customers. Although some argue that a third place is not a place you would work, for creative folks like writers, I am going to include it.

Earlier this week I met fellow writer and friend Sheree Nielsen, publisher of Folly Beach Dances, at a local cafe. When I walked in, there were several people working alone on laptops, and others engaged in conversation while eating or drinking. A third place.

I asked Sheree where she liked to write, and she said she likes the Starbucks by her house. I also frequently grade papers or write at one close to mine. I like one table in particular because it is out in the open and I can hear others talking, which offers a background noise that I find comforting and familiar. In St. Louis we have The St. Louis Bread Company (known as Panera in many other cities) which also could be considered a third place because it provides a welcoming and relaxing environment for visiting or writing. I also work there on a regular basis.

What is it about a public place that makes us feel more creative? Is it the hip baristas, or the comfortable chairs and delicious coffee? I have never thought about analyzing my work to discover themes, ideas, or creativity while working in a cafe, but I'm going to start. But first, tell me, where do you write when you aren't at home? What's your favorite third place?

Mary Horner is a freelance writer and editor, and the author of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing. She teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges.


Diane Martin said...

McDonald's is my "third place" (unlimited drink refills and nobody needing my table), but it took me several tries to find the one where I'm most productive. It has less noise (TVs are on closed-captioning) and a calmer clientele, which seem to be important to me even though I write with earbuds in. Go figure!

Sioux said...

Mary--There is a small coffeehouse in Ferguson that I love. The Corner Cafe? The Corner Coffeehouse? I can't even remember the name, but it's small, has tall tables, booths and overstuffed chairs--lots of different options.

I also like bookstores. Half-Price Books has free wifi and free coffee, along with a water fountain.

Margo Dill said...

I like Kaldi's coffee. It may just be a Missouri thing? Not sure. I go to the one in Kirkwood, MO.

Angela Mackintosh said...

I haven't been using a third place lately, but it used to be the patio at The Yard House and Olive Garden. I did a lot of loitering at those places and no one seemed to mind! There are some gorgeous libraries in my area I need to check out.

Sheree Nielsen said...

Nice post Mary. I heard about, "The Third Place" from the book shop owner of Falling Rock Cafe in Munising, Michigan. I think it rings true for most people.

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