Judy Schneider at her local Panera Bread bakery-cafe outside Pittsburgh

Writer's Retreat

This may be the perfect place to – finally – chase your writing dream.

J.K. Rowling scribbled her first Harry Potter book in a café in Edinburgh, Scotland. Ernest Hemingway penned his short stories in a tiny hotel room in Paris. Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice in a little house in the English countryside.

Then there’s Judy Schneider. Three mornings a week, she packs up her laptop and heads to her local Panera Bread® bakery-cafe outside Pittsburgh, to work on the final drafts of her own Great American Novel.

“Writing is a lonely business,” says Schneider, who coauthored The Frantic Woman’s Guide to Life, a practical book for busy moms. “It’s good to get away from all the distractions at home – doing laundry, fixing dinner – and be among other people. At Panera Bread, the hours go by so easily. I get so much work done, and the refillable coffee really helps!”

An accomplished nonfiction writer, Schneider’s enjoying the switch to fiction – her work in progress is a mainstream women’s novel with a mystery twist. With a professional background in chemical research, she takes a scientific approach to her craft. “I like to have the story plotted out before I begin writing,” she explains. “Then I put all the scenes on index cards and go through them to write out bits of dialogue, develop the characters, and work out all the details.”

For Schneider, though, it’s not all about method. Her writing is about tapping true emotions. For instance, her novel zeros in on a mother’s worst nightmare – a child going missing – and she takes inspiration wherever she finds it. “Last year, I was driving home on Halloween night, after dropping my son off at a party,” recalls Schneider, “and the road was so dark and creepy I knew it had to be in my book. That was the seed, and the emotional backdrop, that opened up the first scene.”

And when she gets stuck? Well, Panera Bread comes to the rescue. Every Monday, Schneider meets up at a local Panera Bread bakery-cafe with the members of her writers’ group. “We’ve been getting together at Panera Bread ever since this one opened seven years ago,” says Schneider. “We read each other’s work and give each other feedback – it’s a really productive relationship. But when we work out plot details like how to kill off a character, we get some funny looks from the other customers.”

Schneider also leads a series of writer’s workshops twice a year at the Panera Bread Community Room. “I call it Writers’ Boot Camp,” she explains. We meet for six weeks in a row. Everybody gets half an hour to read their work aloud and receive a solid critique. We go from the germ of a book idea, through the final draft, to finding an agent. It’s fun and really productive.”

But Schneider’s main focus is on finishing her own novel, which she’s polishing up and getting ready to send off to her agent. So, with her index cards and her computer, she’s plugging away at her local Panera Bread bakery-cafe most weekdays, sipping coffee, maybe nibbling on a Greek salad, and hopping on the Internet whenever she needs to do a bit of research. And when her book is published, right up front there will be an acknowledgement of the Panera Bread bakery-cafe on McKnight Road in Pittsburgh. “There’s really not another place like it,” she says.

Thinking About Writing?

It’s as easy as ABC. Published author, and writing teacher and coach Judy Schneider offers these tips for aspiring writers

Always take notes. Schneider likes index cards – they’re easy to stash in pocket or purse - but you can use anything from your smartphone to a memo pad. Write down everything that comes to mind: interesting thoughts, reflections on your past experiences, quirky observations, snippets of overheard dialogue, news stories, etc. Every so often, read through your notes and look for a theme. Are you always writing about crime? Consider writing a mystery. Are relationships your focus? Maybe romance is your genre. If your notes are chock-full of random facts, maybe you should focus on nonfiction.

Be a reader. Go to your library or bookstore and read every how-to writing book you can find. For a list of good reference books to dive into, visit Schneider’s website and read her reviews.

Check out a writing workshop, conference, or seminar. It’s a great way to meet other writers, learn the nuts and bolts of writing, and discover the ins and outs of the publishing industry.