Miranda Kenneally

Mexican Food Cures Writer's Block

The State of Affairs at the Coffee Station (and writing!)


As you can see from the picture, getting coffee is a dangerous game.  I took this picture at a non-peak hour – usually there are about 20 people crowded around this station.  I’m surprised I come out unscathed (for the most part — I’ve been burned a few times).   

Here’s how it goes down:

1. Get cup from one of three stations (while dodging people who already have cups who are trying to get to the sugar/lid/creamer stations).

2. Squeeze left (NOTE: I have to step AWAY from the coffee urns) to get a cardboard sleeve, lid, and sugar and stirrer.  Put sugar into cup before moving to urn (delaying the people waiting to get to sugar). 

3. Dart right (squeezing past the people who are now lining up to get a cup) to get coffee from the urn.

4. Slink back (through the crowds of people trying to get a cup, or to the right, past the other cup and sugar stations) to get to the creamer/milk station. 

– NOTE: Each milk station contains different types of milk/cream, and there is no consistent pattern to what will be where, e.g. Whole milk, 2% milk, soy milk, half and half, and skim. Some stations have 3 Whole Milks, while others have none.

5. Now I have a cup of hot coffee. I must set it down to secure the lid and avoid a third-degree burn. 

– NOTE: This means I have to set my cup down in front of a station that other people inevitably want to use (e.g. creamer/milk/sugar/lid stations), thus holding up the line. 

6.  At this point, at least two minutes have gone by.  I think it should take less than a minute to procure a cup of coffee. 

HOW I WOULD ARRANGE IT: Sleeve, Cup, Coffee, Sugar, Cream/Milk, stirrer, lid (with place to set the coffee). 

Why is this so HARD?!


A few statistics: 

Coffee sales make up 30% of all cafeteria purchases at my work. (I was unable to find out the total $$ of sales – this is highly secretive information apparently)

A GS-11 employee makes $62,462 per year – this works out to be about $.50 per minute of work. 

5,800 employees work in my building.

Assuming that a more-efficient workflow would bring coffee-grabbing time from two minutes down to one minute per person, and if 1,000 employees a day get a cup of coffee, that’s approximately $1,000 per day that could be saved by improving the coffee process flow!


And since this is supposed to be a writing blog, I’m going to tie this to outlining a novel.  When I write, sometimes I write the last scene first. Or I’ll write a scene in the middle of the book first.  I just don’t know what I’ll write when, but it always comes together in the end (I hope!).  It’s kind of like getting coffee – on any given day, I never know if I’m going to get my sugar last or first, or if I’ll be able to find skim milk. 

My friend (and we share an agent) Tiffany Reisz says she writes everything in chronological order.  If I did that, I’d never finish a book!  I always need to know where I’ll end up. 

In writing, I guess we all end up with a cup of coffee in the end, but how do you get there?  How do you outline and write your novels?

Are there efficiencies to be gained by having a set process for writing a novel, rather than being all over the place like me?

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Comments (2)

2 Responses to “The State of Affairs at the Coffee Station (and writing!)”

  1. alyslinn says:

    I suppose if one could plan the entirety of the novel from start to finish, chronological would be the way to go. But for me, I tend to jump around a bit, while keeping mostly to a chronological order. (Yes, I just contradicted myself, I know.) I do outline my novels, but I’m not above sticking in a new scene here or there if I think it works. And sometimes my head jumps to a scene further on, and I write stuff down so I don’t forget it.

    The thing that keeps me organised? Mariner’s StoryMill software. That might sound like a plug, but seriously, I hardly know how I managed any organisation prior to using this software. I love how I can move around scenes and chapters. 🙂

  2. I was so curious about your coffee woes after seeing the picture on Twitter! This reminds me of getting a (mediocre) cup of coffee at my college… but it’s only $1, so I shouldn’t complain, I guess…

    Usually I’m all over the place when I write. Scene writer… but I’ve been trying to go in order.

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