The Cafe That Helps Beat Writer’s Block—by Fining You $22

From The Wall Street Journal:

TOKYO—At the Manuscript Writing Cafe, people on a deadline pay to put themselves under the gaze of a manager in hopes of curing writer’s block.

Joe Sasanuma, a lawyer at a technology company, is under orders from his publisher to complete a legal book by the end of the year. Alas, the words to explain the contractual obligations of cloud-computing providers haven’t flowed effortlessly. So Mr. Sasanuma has been visiting the cafe.

The cafe’s co-owner, Takuya Kawai, directs his customers to set a goal for the day and, if requested, prods them to get on with it. If they fail to meet it by the time they leave, they have to pay a fine equivalent to $22. It’s an honor system, says Mr. Kawai, but it seems to work.

“Looking at each other, they find themselves under the same amount of stress—and so, together, they end up working hard,” he said.

Students working on book reports, comic-book illustrators, authors and corporate warriors with a presentation due have been flocking to the cafe, which opened in April in an artsy Tokyo neighborhood.

Mr. Sasanuma started co-writing his book last year while cooped up in his apartment. He was fretting about his lack of progress to his chess partner, who suggested the cafe. It seats 10, and costs around $2 an hour, or $4.50 an hour for a premium seat facing a brick wall.

Mr. Sasanuma arrived one day in early May and signed up for a four-hour session, telling Mr. Kawai that his goal was to write three pages. On his first try, the lawyer-author walked away triumphant. He has returned several times since, writing up to four pages each time.

“Maybe it’s the atmosphere, maybe because I’m paying, but I sit down and immediately start typing,” Mr. Sasanuma said.

Deadlines are universal, but this particular way of trying to meet them taps into some parts of Japan’s exam and writing culture. Preparation for the nation’s all-important school entrance exams begins as soon as elementary school for some students trying to get into a well-regarded junior high. These exams stress memorization of facts, and procrastinating students sometimes need the help of a hovering parent or cram-school teacher to buckle down.

Some go to study rooms at public libraries, where the enforced quiet and implicit peer pressure of others dedicated to their studies create the right mood.

Kyoko Ohtagaki, who has used the Manuscript Writing Cafe to work on a manual about digital terminology for government officials, said Mr. Kawai’s technique reminded her of childhood. “It’s comfortable. It feels like home, where you can have the help of someone lightly supervising your homework,” she said.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

2 thoughts on “The Cafe That Helps Beat Writer’s Block—by Fining You $22”

  1. Bad OP: No cookie.

    This was an item on NPR’s news quiz show “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” several weeks ago (which, I should add, scrupulously acknowledged its actual original source, which was a preprint academic journal article), heard while stuck in traffic. I’m not sure whether failing to acknowledge the source is WSJ policy or the reporter, but it looks bad either way — giving off an unfortunate and somewhat narcissitic scent of “not as original as it seems” (a eau d’toilet line sold only in Europe to oligarchs, hereditary aristocracy, program traders, and their immediate families).

    More to the point, it’s bad journalism. Although given the political disparity between an NPR-based humor show and the lack of humor at the WSJ (and its ultimate owner, Sauron), not entirely unexpected.

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