I read my friend Whitney's latest blog post, about a meatless skillet meal that tastes good. It reminded me that buried in my list of blog post ideas was "Writing is like cooking." So that's the one I'm doing tonight.
I don't often cook, but I do love to assemble. Something about thawing a frozen steak and putting it on a pan or grill for the right amount of time at the right heat, and flipping it at appropriate times to prevent burning it does nothing for me. But if you hand me a cooked steak and table full of spices, sauces, and other fixings and condiments, I would make the tastiest steak dinner you ever did have.
I do not sit around and think about what meal I would like to make, then go out and get the ingredients to make it. What I do is keep my kitchen stocked and look at the ingredients I have, and figure out how to use what is already there to make a tasty meal.
Sometimes, though, I would rather fix a bland dish than make an exciting dish from nothing. I may not think that I want a barley soup with a hefty dose of rosemary and lemon pepper, but if I try a bland, watery soup, I will add barley for thickness and hearty flavor, lemon pepper to add some zing, and rosemary to take the edge off. The spices made perfect sense because they solved a problem instead of simply trying to create a particular flavor.
Writing works in all of these ways. I cannot always come up with great lines of writing. But if I have words and sentences already in front of me, I can arrange them in an interesting manner. I cannot pull a story out of thin air, then pull the words to perfectly tell hat story. But I do record the thoughts I have and take stock of those ideas. When a particular idea looks tantalizing, that's the one I choose to write. And, always, editing is just plain easier. When somebody has already laid a foundation, even if it is a very bland one, I can fix it very easily. But if I tried to create from scratch the piece of writing I was making by revising or editing, it would take me 10-100 times as long.
This analogy may not work for everybody, but it does work for me. Creativity is creativity. Whether I am building a meal or building a story, it all comes down to knowing what blends well, what makes good contrasts, and how to make it all go down smooth. When I have trouble understanding writing, using an analogy sometimes helps. If writing is like cooking, then I can understand why my writing doesn't work by finding the cooking equivalent. If I can fix one, I can fix the other.
What is writing like to you?