10 minutes in Elmers


Ashfield Lake in Spring

Elmer’s is a breakfast place in Ashfield, western Massachusetts.  It serves thick pancakes designed to absorb the maple syrup produced just up the road at Gray’s Sugarhouse with limitless cups of coffee; it sells organic vegetables, hand-crafted ceramics and artisan bread.  The mugs are mismatched, the plates huge, the number of variations on the theme of breakfast multitudinous.

The menu is written with an eccentric sense of humour, reflecting the idiosyncrasies of the owner and her team, and on Sundays its clientèle, an eclectic mixture of locals, blow-ins, academics from the nearby colleges and hand knitted babies, queues outside onto the porch for its turn to eat.

And, for me, most importantly, Elmers is 5 minutes walk from Wellspring House,  a retreat for writers where I have spent several weeks over the last couple of years.  When the tyranny of the blinking cursor on the empty screen became too oppressive, a friend and I would escape to the pleasures of a table in the restaurant.

In the few minutes while we waited for our order, under the indulgent eye of the waitress who has seen it all, and much more besides, before,  we would set ourselves the challenge to write for 10 minutes on a random topic we took turns to suggest:

A character has a haircut

Someone crosses a bridge

Utterly haphzard, but with the knowledge that there is someone else trying the same thing, and the assurance that it will only take 10 minutes, something happens to focus the attention, and an idea emerges.  Sometimes it’s rubbish, but sometimes it’s not, and it turns into a scene that survives through expansion, edits, rewrites and more editing, into the final draft.  Oddly it is the exercises suggested by my friend, rather than mine, which have had a higher hit rate for me.  It’s as if I need to creep up on my imagination and take it by surprise.

Why is that magic so hard to replicate on one’s own?  I’ve read of a new phenomenon of on-line silent writing groups, where writers log on and join each other in not talking, but instead spend the hour of the ‘group’ writing in the  company of the other people ‘virtually’ connected with them, doing the same thing.

I’ve tried something similar with a couple of friends on Skype, but it’s never worked anywhere near as well for me; I think it’s because it’s too easy (for me) to cheat.

I’ve yet to find an alternative to those 10 minutes in Elmers.

Leave a comment


  1. margaret nickels

     /  January 17, 2011

    Maybe you have to start with the pancakes ?! I can see why you like this place so much .A perfect retreat .

  2. If only I knew how to make pancakes like Elmer…..


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