Week #1: Idea
Or: What Are We Hungry For?
Writing is much like the art of cooking a fine meal or baking a tasty cake. Our tastes grow, change and become more refined as we hone our skills. Not only are they both fun but they are life sustaining. There’s a certain amount of creativity, a joy of experimentation as well as trial, error and experience that goes into both disciplines. Each finished product is the result of a process. And each process starts with an idea, one based on our personal habits, whether we’re cooking a meal for unknown guests or writing a story for unknown readers.
Before I started seriously writing I had to look at my own reading habits. I’ll ask you these same questions: What sort of reader are you? Do you read one book from start to finish? Do you leave books unfinished? Do you read multiple books at the same time? Do you supplement your literary diet with short stories? Do you favor one genre or do you read just about anything? And, as a writer, how do you think this will this affect your readers?
I personally read just about anything. I read multiple books from different genres all at the same time, setting them aside when I’m not submersed in the story. I prefer to read obscure writers. Right now, I read a lot of historical fiction and nonfiction mainly because I am writing historical fiction. But I sneak a bit of chick-lit, suspense or erotica in there just to make it interesting.
So, compare this to cooking: what are my eating habits and how will that affect my guests? What am I hungry for vs. what should I feed these people?
Are you a picky eater? That will limit the choice of foods you have to choose from. Do you detest veggies? A certain fresh characteristic may be missing from the meal. Do you leave meals unfinished while others are asking for more? Or do you maybe have special needs, allergies or morals that reduce the types of foods you can ingest?
My eating habits are similar to my current reading habits: I would eat just about anything. But for some reason, mostly health issues, I reduced myself to a vegan diet last year. It works for me right now, but once in a while, there is nothing else to eat and I have to set my issues aside and eat whatever is offered. Also keeps things interesting.
Notice I ask myself what am I hungry for vs. what should I feed these people. I need to take them into consideration when I’m cooking and when I’m writing. But I can’t get too caught up in this. The main person I have to please is myself. Our ideas come from our personal tastes, experiences, capabilities, from our hearts and souls, a problem we need to solve. Is everyone else going to like it? We’ll keep that thought in the back of our minds right now. But the first step is to formulize the idea, get it rolling and make it personally palatable.
I am seldom stuck for an idea of what to write or what to cook but it’s getting it tangible and edible that is sometimes a problem. I know what I want it to taste like, to smell like, to feel like. I can just about touch the atmosphere I want to create and how I want to make my audience or my guests feel. But sometimes I need a bit of guidance: a recipe, a plan. A writing prompt. Last night’s dream or a smell on the wind can trigger me off. Something someone said on the train. A random title generator can help me solidify the idea, too.
And the right tools. I cook in a tiny kitchen with a wood stove, a slow cooker and two electric hot plates. That means I need a clear workspace because any clutter will hold me up. While I clear and arrange my tools, I am thinking of how I want my creation to take form. I check my cupboards to see what ingredients I have, if I have enough of everything and, of course enough time.
The same goes for the writing process. I need a block of time, a not-so cluttered workspace and my laptop. I don’t like to write free hand. And I like to have a block of time so I can unfold. I’d rather take one day and write for eight hours than write an hour a day. But of course all rules are made to be broken. In cooking and in writing there are no absolutes for me. Flexibility and the ability to change direction mid-stream are key.
Do I have the right ingredients? Do I have enough knowledge of what I’m writing about or do I have to research? Am I writing a short story? Should I write a series of short stories and see if there’s enough material to write a novel? Can I even write a novel?
Will I be making a salad for myself or will I just put on a pot of noodles for the family? Is this going to be an intimate dinner for two? Am I having guests expecting a three-course perfect dinner? Well, if I am inviting four people for the perfect dinner, I will have to plan. If I’m writing a novel I will have to plan. But if I’m only cooking for the family, it will be more informal and the planning will not have to be as extensive.
So, here’s my proposed project for the next three months: I’m going to write a short story for you with a beginning, a middle and an end. At the same time, I’ll work through the practice round of a three-course meal for some four unknown guests, a beginning, a middle and an end. I’ll describe my process here and compare them where I can.
I’ll post the recipes, some of my favorites, on my blog in their chaotic style. For the story, I’ve taken a title from this random title generator, The Women of Tragic Hearts. I want it to be about a restaurant owner and her recently-surfaced old friend who cook a meal together and how the evening changes their lives.
So, let’s raise a toast to our project with an aperitif. I’ll offer an Aperol Spritz or a Hugo, all the rage here in Germany right now, along with a sparkling non-alcoholic drink for those who wish not to imbibe.
Try an Aperol Spritz:
(Aka lovely, poison-orange liquid in a wine glass.) Here’s the 3-2-1 principle. Three parts white wine or prosecco, two parts Aperol and one part sparkling water. For example: 60 ml wine, 40 ml Aperol and one splash of sparkling water. Add an orange slice and some ice and you’re set!
Or try a Hugo:
(could be compared to a Mojito, but fruitier and much lighter) Why don’t we mix a pitcher while we’re at it? Take 500 ml prosecco, 100 ml elder blossom syrup, 3 limes, some mint leaves and a splash of sparkling water. Crush the mint leaves and the lime in the bottom of a glass pitcher. Slowly add the prosecco, then the elder blossom syrup and top it off with a shot of sparkling water. Can also be served in a wine glass but a cocktail glass will do fine.
Non-alcoholic Hugo can be prepared with an alcohol-free prosecco or with a sparkling water.
Join me for the Aperitif of this six-part post that first appeared at the Mslexia Blog!
The theme of my blog residency is The Love of Writing Compared to The Love of Cooking. Now what do these two things have in common? Everything starts with a dilemma; a problem that needs solving. Out springs a bright idea that I think is as good as when the wheel was invented. This evolves to some sort of planning, then chaos, then the clean-up and an eventual surrender to discipline. And this results in a readable story or an edible meal. So I hope.