When you don’t know what to write

Sometimes I don’t know what to write.

I’ve made it a regular habit for me, a muscle that needs to be regularly exercised, and I have felt myself growing stronger as a writer. I even keep a list of topics I want to write about. But sometimes I just stare at the list, and stare at the screen or page, and I’m stumped.

It isn’t like writer’s block, where the writer is stymied, not knowing what direction to take a story. It’s more like a lack of current inspiration. I have plenty to write about, but I like to be in a particular mood or frame of mind when I sit down and put pen to paper, or fingertips to keyboard. I like to feel the anger, the sadness, the loneliness, or the love when I put words down.

Today, though, I just feel here. Not numb, not apathetic, not empty, just present.

The old man at a nearby table is scraping frosting off of a plate with his fingers, the last sugary remnants of his cinnamon roll. In my mind, he snuck out this morning for a treat, and his wife can’t find out because it’s bad for his diabetes.


A woman overdressed for winter (it’s 40 degrees out and she’s dressed like it’s below zero in thick coat, hat, scarf, gloves, snow pants) is devouring a triple-berry muffin, and she can’t stop talking about it, loudly. “Oh, this is delicious! I had no idea you guys made muffins like this! This is the best thing I’ve ever eaten!” She’s not talking to anyone, and in my mind, she’s maybe talking to the ghost of a loved one, someone who’s been gone for months but who follows her around and only the woman can see the ghost.


A petite young blonde woman has one side of the restaurant to herself. She has an adorable little blonde baby girl with pink cheeks, and the woman is feeding her small spoonfuls of baby food. She looks at her daughter with such love and affection, like that little baby is her entire universe, like she can’t remember what the world was like a year ago when that child didn’t exist. In my mind, she has a husband far off somewhere, perhaps in the Middle East, and she’s working hard to keep everything together.


I realize that I’m doing it again, and I smile to myself. I am always making up stories about those around me, turning simple events into life dramas. It happens unbidden. And when I realize it’s happening I smile.

I take a sip of my coffee, something billed as a Peruvian Medium Roast, and the bitterness on my tongue is delicious. I look outside. It’s just below freezing and snow is falling loosely, haphazardly. It’s clinging to every surface, from tree branches and roofs to car bumpers and sidewalks. The sky is the same color as the snow, a rich, thick, opaque white, and only the colors of things offset it–the browns of tree trunks, the reds of trucks, the tans of buildings–everything else is white. It is its own kind of beautiful, but it brings with it a sadness, a longing for the sun. I think of my clients and how their depressive tendencies increase in a winter like this, and how the problems all seem to go away or diminish when the whiteness in the sky gets softer and the blue shows.


My eyes turn back to the flashing cursor on the empty computer screen. I remember a trick I learned when I was back in high school. The teacher talked about how the best way to get started on an essay or assignment was to just start working on it. You can always go back and change something later, but just beginning a project can inspire ideas and motivation.

The blonde woman uses a spoon to wipe dribbled baby food off her baby’s chin.

The man literally licks his plate clean.

The woman with the muffin gives off an orgasmic sound of pleasure. “It’s so good!”

And I, smiling, place my fingers on my keyboard and begin to type.

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