Cooks are like writers

I’m no cook. I lack the vision to simply look at the contents of my refrigerator or cupboard and immediately know what to whip up. I am a recipe gal. I need to know exactly what ingredients to use and the precise amounts, the necessary cooking technique, and the exact timing of each step. Even slavishly following a recipe’s instructions will not guarantee me culinary success.

Intuitive—as well as experienced—cooks seem to have that keen ability to look at an array of ingredients and conceptualize a dish. Take my older son, Kyle, for instance. Through dogged experimentation and hours of watching various cooking shows, he has discovered a panorama of flavor profiles and textures that he uses to create tasty, nuanced food, meals that go beyond mere nourishment. He’s not content to use just one or two ingredients with a sprinkling of salt and pepper thrown in for good measure. And even when he uses a recipe, he adventures far beyond the ingredients list, searching for that last elusive ingredient that will elevate his dish to that image he has envisioned. He utilizes various cooking techniques and exercises infinite patience in allowing the various flavors to meld. Often that means dinner is served hours—and I do mean hours—beyond the initial estimated time of eating, but there’s no rushing his process. It’s worth the wait.

Good writers are much like intuitive cooks

Skilled writers have the ability to choose among seemingly endless ideas and concepts to create complex written works using a plethora of writing techniques. Like experienced cooks, they too are not content to limit themselves to a few ingredients. Fiction writers can use a number of literary elements, such as character, setting, conflict, theme, moral, mood, tone, plot, pacing, dialogue, and structure to craft a story. Literary nonfiction and informational nonfiction include many of the same elements. Authors also have at their disposal a broad range of literary devices, techniques they use to convey ideas and emotions. These include foreshadowing, flashbacks, irony, metaphor, simile, symbolism, paradox, repetition, hyperbole, understatement, personification, point of view, and allegory. Whether writing fiction or nonfiction, the thoughtful writer is patient and takes the time to carefully blend essential ingredients using various techniques to provide depth to a written work that readers will savor.

But whether it’s cooking or writing, I’ve learned that getting started is the hardest part of any creative process. I’m always urging writers to just get their thoughts down on paper. They can then go back and rework their initial draft to add layers and complexity. Switch out mundane verbs, adjectives, and adverbs for spicier descriptors. They can let things marinate.

After all, good writing is rewriting.

So, do I listen to my own advice? Not so much

Recently, a colleague suggested I add a monthly blog to my website. Although I know I have the ability to write, I have not in the past considered myself to be a “writer.” I have always preferred having writers do the heavy lifting. My strength lies in editing. I struggle mightily to get my initial thoughts down on paper. So, tasked with writing a blog, I sat around waiting for inspiration to strike. This resulted in long periods of procrastination and nagging guilt. My polite—but persistent—colleague, not content with letting me idle away the days, directed me to a blog containing the following quote: 

“Action precedes inspiration”

Huh? When I first heard this, I was skeptical. Come now, writing and other creative endeavors must certainly be the result of some mysterious force of inspiration. But I decided to test this adage and sat down to attempt my first blog post. I was pleasantly surprised to find that once I got started, my mind started percolating with ideas! The more I worked, other notions popped into my mind. I hammered out a first draft and then walked away to let things simmer. I wandered back occasionally to stir the pot, tasting and then adding in a few more ingredients as necessary. Voilà! With patience and rounds of rewriting, I had created my first post. The process worked.

Action does indeed precede inspiration.

So, who knows? Maybe a little practice and faith in the creative process will transform this recipe gal into an inventive chef. Maybe I too can write, edit, and cook! Eh, two out of three ain’t bad.