A Study in Cups and Chairs

Writing is so much more than sitting at your computer, waiting for the words to come. It’s also paying attention to the world around you.

I’ve had a productive writing week, but today I felt dry, used up, and tired. So I put into action advice that I got from Natalie Goldberg’s The True Secret of Writing. I went to a coffee shop, Cups and Chairs, to record what was in front of me without subjectivity or interpretation. For twenty minutes, I wrote in a small red moleskin notebook, recording what I heard, saw, smelled, and tasted.

Here’s just a snippet of what I wrote:

There was a bug on the wall. I turned my head to sip my latte. When I looked again, the bug was gone.

Christmas ornaments hung on the light switches: blue, green, and red balls with glittery accents.

A woman, dressed in all black, delivered a steaming teapot and green mug to a college student sitting on the sofa, fussing with his laptop. The sofa had a linen cover. The walls were painted muted earth tones, grassy greens and brownish-reds. Old pictures, faded and some torn at the edges, of Philadelphia’s monuments hung on the wall. A bullet board hung over a cream and sugar station. Someone had shaped the tacks into a smiley face.

A woman in an Argyle sweater talked on her phone. It took me a few minutes to realize that she had a faint Irish accent. It was only noticeable when she pronounced long vowels like “good day” and “thank you.” After she hung up, she ate soup and crunched on a sliver of crusty bread.

A policeman walked into the cafe. “Did someone call?” he said. His radio was on.

“I did,” the barista said. She was the one dressed in black. “Someone called and said they were from PECO and that we owned them thousands of dollars. They said if we didn’t pay, they’d come turn off our electricity today.”

“Did you pay them?” the policeman said.

“We didn’t,” the barista said. We got their number and said we’d call them back. When we couldn’t reach them, we figured out it was a scam.”

“Did someone come in with a video to tell you it was a joke?” The policeman laughed.

The barista didn’t sound amused, but rather stern. “No sir. Would you like some tea?”

The woman in the Argyle sweater started talking on the phone, and I was cut off from the conversation.

I hope to use this exercise to cultivate specificity in my fiction, which I think is one key to great writing.

cuppainting

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