a guide to writing
Journal writing got you down? Does the pen weight fifteen pounds, the paper cut you to ribbons? Does the shifting light hurt your eyes? Are you feeling totally uninspired, pooky? I have good news for you.
This may be the best ever secret weapon nearly guaranteed to make your journaling a pleasurable and inspiring experience. This information is so good it could be considered cheating – except it isn’t. It’s so good it should almost be illegal or sold with a special license. Nevertheless, here it is for you, the solid gold journaling tip of the year: pick up your journal and walk. Directly to the busiest coffee shop you can find. The kind of coffee shop is entirely up to you.
The place itself can be a youthful hipster java cave where a black tee shirt is very nearly the required uniform and where you are soo out of touch with the music, the cultural references, the technology. It can be a very groovy in a retro kind of place where the waitresses wear those polyester pseudo nurse outfits, with crisp white aprons tied in bow in the back and where the donut case is always stocked with powdered sugar sprinkled old fashioneds. Doesn’t matter.
Once you select your target, enter the writing zone with all the necessary tools and secure a table. So much is negotiable about this drill, but this part is not: you must order enough beverage and/or food to ensure a dependable cover. Your passage on this part of the journaler’s journey requires that you honor your host – the one who provides you with the context of all this rich material – with an offering that reflects appreciation for all the trouble he or she has gone to in order for you have a nice, clean, well-lit writing surface, a place to rest your iced tea, a den peopled with characters to sketch, a platform upon which to balance a snack while you go about your journaling duty.
Here is the question: how can you not find something to write about here? My goodness, there is so much material in this fabulous den it’s almost immoral to shrink from the duty to write. Did you know that in the archetypal studies of fiction, the coffee house, the bar, the watering hole is one of the most holy places in which a plots twist, where complications arise, transactions occur? The Mos Eisley Cantina, the bar in Star Wars, the Whistle Stop Café in Fried Green Tomatoes, the Tropicana where Ricky Ricardo occasionally allowed Lucy to perform as an outlet for her outrageous talent? The watering hole is where information is exchanged, a place that urges the hero to fulfill her next mission in the quest. In this context, the watering hole is wherever you choose it to be and the hero is you.
The bodega is like the telegraph office, where lessons are imparted, instructions delivered. By placing yourself squarely in the heart of your local cantina, you are putting yourself smack in the middle of the most strategically magnetic place in which to attract writing material. (I recommend against writing in an actual bar where alcohol is the beverage of choice, for the obvious reason that while it might make good fiction, it makes lousy writing practice).
So here you are in your café; look around. There are so many topics to bounce into and fill all those crisp empty pages. There is food. Check out that menu! There are customers you couldn’t make up on your best, most fecund day. The décor is an encyclopedia of material. The foot traffic going by outside the window is a screenplay waiting to happen. Maybe you’ve got a host of memories stirred up by the smell of grease, fantasies ignited by the sound of a steamer frothing up milk in a pitcher. Did you waitress your way through college and learn how to balance eight plates on your arms? What is your favorite café experience? Your worst? What about that woman you saw that firm morning in Paris when you finally made it there after so many years of promises to yourself, and found that café in the St. Germain de Pres just blocks away from the Pont Neuf? There she was, sitting in that sidewalk café looking like something out of central casting, with her black sleeveless dress, black, wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, perfect blond chignon, sipping a glass of chardonnay at nine o’clock in the morning, sharing a table with a man who was maybe her nephew, her grandson, her lover? You savored your own cappuccino and croissant with a fabulous mysterious cheese and felt as if in that moment, you were somehow bigger than life.
You see where you can go with this?
So on those days when you know you should be journaling but just can’t find it in you to examine your own life? Get thee to a coffee shop. Let that java jolt seep into your blood and see where it carries you. This may just be the best tip ever. Use it, and then use it again.