A town doesn’t need much for me to fall in love it. One good independent coffee shop will do. Mine opens at 6:30 a.m., and I’m here when the doors are unlocked every Tuesday and Thursday morning. I order the same breakfast–bagel with cream cheese and a side of bacon–and the same coffee–nonfat latte. For here. Because I want it in the heavy mug, not a disposable paper cup. This is not the place to come for latte art, but the coffee is always good. If the short barista with glasses is working, I know to ask for it extra hot.
It’s a Tuesday, and that means I’m searching for a slice. I like to see what happens when I open my computer and sit down to write with nothing planned, no preconceived ideas. Sometimes I write my piece on my drive to work, an hour across the empty plains. But this morning, I simply listened to my podcast and had very few thoughts. As I pulled into town, the sky was just beginning to lighten. Last week, there was a sunrise that turned the clouds red. This week at the same time of the morning, it’s still dark.
I’m the first one here on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I always get my preferred table in the side room in the corner. I have spent so many hours in this room, reading, writing, grading, preparing lesson plans, meeting friends, conducting interviews, holding meetings, running into seemingly every person I’ve ever known. Even when I think I don’t know the barista, she calls my name when my coffee is ready.
It’s a gorgeous space with original tin ceilings and tile floors and elaborately carved molding and chandeliers. It’s filled with strange maps and old paintings and empty picture frames and Oriental rugs and mismatched tables and chairs that look like they’ve been collected from a dozen different estate sales. Not all of them are structurally sound and not all of them are comfortable. The plaster has cracked off the walls in places, exposing the bricks underneath.
I’m in the cozy booth in the corner, tucked away from the steady stream of customers at the counter in the next room. Amy Winehouse is playing, and the fire is lit, though I’m sitting too far away to feel it. This cavernous space with the giant picture windows isn’t easy to heat, and pretty soon I’ll be bringing my fingerless gloves and a poncho to spread across my lap while I work in the mornings.
I’m still searching for that slice. I have a few topics in mind–hiking, basketball, cats, books–but nothing feels quite right this morning. Nothing feels like it needs to be written. I do what I always do for inspiration on Tuesdays–read through the slices that have already been published. I often find a slice by reading other slices. I read some beautiful pieces this morning, pieces I will think about throughout the day and return to later to comment on. But nothing feels like it needs to be written this morning.
I wonder, once again, what it is that makes a piece of writing feel necessary to write at this moment. On another morning, any one of those topics I have in mind could be the one. Any one of the slices I read could trigger my own piece of writing. I’m waiting for the snick, as Laini Taylor calls it:
It’s the sound and feeling of a puzzle piece fitting into place. You know what I mean: you instantly feel the rightness of it, the ease. When you’re forcing a piece, you know it. You feel it. It’s awkward, you have to work too hard to make it fit.
And even after all these years of observing and analyzing my process, the snick is still a mystery to me. I know it when I feel it, that little puzzle piece fitting into place, a click, a zing, that makes me sit up and take notice, that makes my fingers itch for the keyboard, that makes me know I’ve got my piece, I’ve found what needs to be written this morning.
I take my first sip of coffee, almost too hot to drink, and gaze off into space. My eyes linger on the plat map propped against the wall, the antique sunburst mirror with mottled glass, the clock that counts the minutes until I have to be at work. I’ve spent so many hours sitting in this room, so many minutes resting my eyes and my mind staring at that wall.
And then I feel it. The snick.
And I start writing.