On Writing: The Risk of Recipes

I have come up with some ideas about writing that are based on my experience learning to cook. I share a few of these here – food for thought, if you will.

I feel a recipe is only a theme, which an intelligent cook can play each time with a variation.
~Madam Benoit

As I have come to develop my cooking skills and my writing skills, I have realized that there is no recipe for good writing. There are lots of recipe books and recipe websites out there for writers, as there are master chefs who would like to sell you their method, a set of special tools they created, and a pre-made spice blend sure to add a nice “Bam!” to your essays, but, in fact, these are all gimmicks.

Someone can tell you to add 1 solid thesis statement, 5 paragraphs, a dash of academic formatting, and a pinch of reflection or humor and you’ll have a good essay. Not true. As Mdm. Benoit points out, a recipe can provide a sense of flavor (this will be a Mexican dish) and an idea of structure (it will be a soufflé), and perhaps a few must-have ingredients (curry required), but as the cook, you are the creator. You make the recipe as you write, and each essay will be a different combination of ingredients, flavors, smells, textures, colors, and outcomes.

I’ve learned a few other things about writing and cooking, as well:

• A good essay, like a good meal, takes time to prepare. Rarely can either come together a few hours before people sit down at your table to eat.

• As with mushrooms, essays are always better when the ideas can marinate in your head for a while. Your first draft may be the result of you dumping all the ingredients in the pot (what is often called a brain dump). While they are out there, think about them – let them rest for a few hours, a few days – and let them marinate, mix with other ideas, other flavors. Let them become saturated, and then wring them out. The ultimate result will be more flavorful.

• Get someone to do a taste test before you “plate it up.” Feedback is a gift; having a second set of eyes is time well-spent.

Finally, the last piece of cooking/writing advice I give is to avoid eggplant at all costs. Nothing good can come from it unless you like the taste of slugs.

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