Monday, December 6, 2010

Cooking and Writing. Just don't set the book on fire.

Earlier this year, the FNC had a chance to give a presentation and do a Q&A with the graduate writing class where we all met, back in 2007.  This was in the spring, also known as the final push during my YoH (which stands for Year of Hell, for those keeping score.)  Without going into detail, I'll just let it be known that I'm an elementary school teacher and there was a lot of crying (mostly on my part) during the 09-10 school year.

 Which meant that I was doing very little writing.  Which lead to even more crying.  (And a lot of showing up to meetings going, "Okay you guys, the thing is...")

So when we did this presentation, I kind of felt like a fake.  I'll admit it.  There was Frankie with her agent, and Donna with her finished WIP, and Janine with her picture book, and me with...what?  A over-revised first chapter and a half-thought out idea for a story arc?

But then Donna explained to the group that I liked to let things marinate.  I'm a marinator (I don't know if that's actually a word, but it is now!)

Since then, I've had the summer off and I've written a bunch and I feel like a productive member of society again.  Also, the whole crying thing is finally under control.  But the marination comment stuck with me.  Because the more I think about it, the more true it becomes.  Not only that, it made me realize that the fact I wasn't writing--as in, typing into a word document stuff about my characters--didn't mean I wasn't "writing."  Like, thinking deep deep thoughts about my story and my characters and about the writing process.

Which lead me to think about cooking.  Like writing, I love to cook.  Like writing, I love marinades.  And like writing, I really enjoy not quite knowing where things are going to end up.

For me, cooking and writing are really similar.  I take something I know that I like.  In writing, that's probably using fantasy or something fantastical as a base.  In cooking, it's usually chicken.  (I love chicken.)

Next, I throw some other stuff in.  In cooking, that usually means putting the chicken in a plastic baggie and throwing in some spices, salt and pepper, some wine, olive oil and maybe a few random things, like soy sauce or chilis or pesto or salad dressing or...all of the above? and letting it sit in the fridge for a few hours.

For writing, that means thinking about some elements that I'd love to see in a story.  For example, one of my favorite albums is Coldplay's Viva La Vida, and one of my favorite songs is "Violet Hill," and one of my favorite lyrics in the song is "Was a long and dark December/from the rooftops I remember/there was snow/white snow."  When I heard this song, I just knew I wanted it on my WIP playlist.  I loved the mood and the quiet epicness of it.  Then, this past winter in the Northeast, we had a lot of snow.  And once, we had a snowicane.  Which is what happens if you have hurricane stuff and snow stuff at the same time.  The coolest part of the snowicane was the fact that there was lightning AND snow at the same time, which are two of my favorite weather things of all time.  So then I decided I also wanted a snowicane in my WIP.  Which was awesome, because then it meant I had a reason for putting "Violet Hill" on my playlist!  It was my snowicane song!

The thing about marinades is, they don't work right away.  The chicken needs some time to just sit and soak in all the flavors that are swirling around it.  If you dunk something in a marinade and then throw it on the grill right away, it'll have SOME flavor, but definitely not compared to the flavor of letting it sit for a few hours. 

For me, this is true in my writing as well.  I definitely have those moments where the words just fly from my fingers and the pages fill up, but mostly, I need to sit on something until it's good and ready.  Sometimes this means I write until I don't know what's going to happen next, or I have a vague idea of what's going to happen but haven't figured out the logistics of it.  Sometimes I DO know what's going to happen next, but I need it to sit so because it doesn't feel like it's ready for writing yet.  This means that I have a lot of post-its shoved into pockets and purses and write notes on my hands a lot.  But I also feel like I don't have to go back as often and take out plot pieces that aren't working, because I've already thought them through.  And when I do off-course (which just happened recently, actually), I like to sit on it until I've figured out why it's wrong, and how to fix it.

(Interesting sidenote: Acidic marinades actually start to turn chicken white as they marinate.  The acid actually starts the cooking process.  So when things marinate, it's like the story is WRITING ITSELF!)

(Sidenote two: Don't let things marinate too long.  Over-marinated chicken meat gets tough and chewy.  Same for stories.)

So you wait and wait and wait and wait...and then you cook it, and eat it, and everything is super yummy!  And you write, IT'S super yummy too!  And while you were waiting for your chicken to marinate, you had time to make side dishes, like understanding your characters and figuring out backstories and checking Twitter.  Uh, I mean, thinking more deep deep thoughts.

I know all of this makes it sound like I do more thinking than writing--and sometimes that's true--or that I sit around and don't write until two days before a critique meeting--also sometimes true--but in general, I actually feel pretty productive.

So, what about all of you?  What kind of a cook are you?  Are you more of a baker?  Or an order-outer?  Do you have a favorite recipe?  If you do, please share!  I love finding new things to make.  (One of my favorite recipes is pesto.)


  1. Definitely a marinator!

    That's how I do my nanowrimo. Let the ideas grow in my head for a month, and then: Ready, Set, Go.

  2. What an awesome post! I love marinating...and this made me really want chicken. But it's all so true about writing and cooking! Love it!

  3. I am also a 'slow' writer and like to let things sit and marinate. However, I am really impatient when it comes to cooking and I don't like to wait for my meals! haha.
    My favorite website for new recipes is Everything I have made from her site has been delicious.

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