Written in the (café of) stars

I+believe+in+writing+in+a+caf%C3%A9.+Not+literally%2C+but+going+out+into+the+world+to+experience+things%2C+to+really+observe+the+world+and+the+people+around+you.+

Sydney Ling

I believe in writing in a café. Not literally, but going out into the world to experience things, to really observe the world and the people around you.

by Sydney Ling

I knew writers swore by writing in a café, but I didn’t believe in it for the longest time. 

Last summer, I was trying to write a short story about “The Café of Stars,” a magical café that serves starlight in a glass. However, I had writer’s block, my thoughts tangled like constellations. The same little cinematic scene in my head kept playing on a loop: a man walks into a darkly lit café; he buys two glasses of magical starlight for himself and his friend, and they toast to the stars. The friend leaves, and the man steps out onto the street, looking up at the stars.

I did not know what the café meant. Why is starlight served? Why are the characters there? What do they say?

My mom told me, “You’ve never been to a real café. How would you know what it is really like? You have only been to Starbucks. You can’t write a story about a café without actually going to one.”

And so I visited cafés, one after another. I went to Philz, Peet’s, Starbucks. Local cafés, big café chains. On our trip to Texas, whenever we saw a café, my mom made us stop and visit. My parents would order coffee, and we would sit down. “Look at the mahogany paneling of the wall,” she would say, or “Look at the acrylic paintings hanging over those leather seats.” I would take pictures, jot down notes about the surroundings, write a paragraph or two.

I believe in writing in a café. Not literally, but going out into the world to experience things, to really observe the world and the people around you.”

I believe in writing in a café. Not literally, but going out into the world to experience things, to really observe the world and the people around you. I tried at first to just shut myself in my room and try to focus and write, but I could not come up with anything because I did not know what I was writing about. I am a 14-year-old girl who does not really know much about anything. I could read all about the favorite cafés of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein, but I still would not know what it was really like to go to a café and write. 

One day, after we got back from Texas, I biked to the local Peet’s. I entered the café, breathing in the faint scent of cinnamon and caramel, then sitting down and opening my notebook. I scrawled down Ella Fitzgerald’s molasses blue voice floating in the background, the smell of freshly brewed coffee tinting the air, the pitter-patter of the raindrops gently dancing on the roof. I looked at the people around, really looked at them.

I sketched out each person — the frizzy-haired girl lying on her side, dressed in a blue floral sweater and Doc Martens. The man in a navy turtleneck intently reading The Sun Also Rises. The redheaded barista who kept stuttering while taking orders. The words kept flowing onto the page, painting the picture of the cozy confines of Peet’s. Surrounding myself with the world I was trying to craft helped me capture the colors, the flavors, the sounds, the people of a café. In that moment, I believed in writing in a café. 

When you first walk in, the café is dark, but your eyes adjust to the low glow of fairy lights strung along the walls and the flickering vanilla candles in mason jars on the small dark wooden tables. A white birchwood sign in a handwritten script reads, “Turn Your Scars into Stars.” The jazzy tune of “Stars Fell on Alabama” floats in the background, and the faint scent of cinnamon and caramel pervades the air. At each table sits just one guest, slowly sipping their glass of starlight. The only sound besides the music is the hushed voices of the waiters.