Lessons from the Kitchen

I am a Jack of all trades, Master to none, and that’s perfectly okay in my book. I know that’s not the only way to be – all you Masters out there, I take my hat off to you. I wish I had your focus! (Especially around exam time.) But my brain doesn’t seem to like just doing one thing – even as I’m writing this, I have several tabs open on my browser and listening to a Boots haul video. That’s not to say I always do several things at once – multitasking has bitten me in the arse before and I know when to stop – but I’m the sort of person who wants to do all of the things, all of the time.

Sometimes, that helps.

I love writing, obviously, but I also love drawing, scrapbooking, taking pictures. I even dabbled into Twitter haiku once. And there is a lot to be said about the way cross-specialization can help you expand on your other talents as well – I once heard someone ask Moira Young if her background as an opera singer influenced her writing in any way, and sure enough, she said she hadn’t thought about it, but it probably did make her really pay attention to how words flowed and tied together. (Side note, if you haven’t read the Dustlands trilogy, put it on your TBR list. NOW.)

But we’re not singing today – as you may have gleaned from the title, I’d like to go into the Kitchen and see what writing tips I can draw from it.

Note please: I’m not a pro. During term-time, I wouldn’t even call myself an am, I just throw stuff on a baking sheet/pot and hope for the best. But when I come home for the holidays, I like to really go all out in the kitchen and prepare elaborate meals for my family. (And do baking. Lots and lots of baking.) So if you’re expecting some Master Chef insights… sorry. I’m sure Gordon Ramsey has something to say on the matter. In fact:

#1 As difficult as it is to receive criticism on your MS, at least it’s not Baked Alaska. And if cooking shows have taught us one thing, Top Chefs don’t take shit from anyone. Mary Berry even told some guy in the Great British Bake-Off to not make excuses and present his dessert like a man. Which might be harsh, but drives through a clear point – if you’re hoping to make money from something, you can’t be wishy-washy about it. Be professional. Show up on time, do the work, present what you think is your best, own and learn from your mistakes. Just because everyone in your immediate friend circle sees writing as frivolous doesn’t mean you should too.

#2 Listen to your gut. And your nose. You know when you follow a recipe to a T and you still burn the buns? They say cooking is more artsy while baking is an exact science, but even the best recipes don’t take into account the make of your oven, the width of your pan, whether the temperature is exactly 180 degrees or you have one of those old, temperamental things that need to be tweaked just right to work… and that doesn’t even take into account the freshness of your ingredients, or if a brand of flour has more self-rising agent. That’s because life is choke-full of variables and at some point, you need to stop looking up to other people for guidance and get those damn buns out on the wire rack. Apply metaphor accordingly.

#3 Experiment. Really. As much as I make fun of my term-time self, I do actually get some good results from experimenting. Why, just a few weeks ago, I discovered a new favourite sauce when making eggplant parmesan (I had some frozen spinach and some leftover pumpkin-and-carrot puree in the fridge, and added it to some rather uninspiring tinned tomatoes. The result, I found, was a great improvement.) Now, I wouldn’t say the combination was entirely random, I did have some idea about things that usually work well together, but I hadn’t really thought to put them together before. Same with writing – I really do need to experiment more, see what works and what doesn’t.

#4 Patience is golden. As I write this, I have a baked chocolate cheesecake sitting in the fridge, “aging” (as Marian Keyes put it.) It’s my first time making one, but let me tell you, it was no small undertaking. My kitchen smelled divine and I really, really want to try it out, but it has to “sit” before it’s cut, so sit it shall. Similarly, a writing project may need to sit for a while before it’s released into the wild, or even edited. I did say 6 months waiting didn’t work for me in my “On Writing” review, but a year after giving up on a project indefinitely I got a strong itch to write it again. It’s not the same story. Not even close. But I think it’s something there, and it might just be better than the original. Sometimes these things really need to wait, (and you only need to look so far for examples where rushing the cheesecake didn’t pay off.)

#5 You can always, always, always learn something new from other people. Even if it means not using warm butter in shortcrust pastry.


One thought on “Lessons from the Kitchen

  1. Pingback: The Object of my Dejection | iamnevergettingbuplished

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