Writing is Like Cooking

. . . writing is like cooking is like painting is like sculpture is like music is like gardening is like tying flies is like carving is like making bread is like making wine is like singing is like dancing is like cooking is like writing . . .

I’ve been thinking a lot about creative endeavours as a whole lately—thoughts sparked, I’m sure, by two gallery openings I got to attend (Noreen Spence’s took my breath away), but kindled into full flame by Laura Best’s great post on the same topic, my summer gallivants to the local farmer’s market and all the cooking I’ve been doing lately.

I love writing more than almost anything, playing with words, fighting with words, praying with words, crying and bleeding in words, loving through words, and yet—

When I cook, particularly when I’ve using fresh good ingredients, a feeling kindred to what I experience when I write wells up in me.

In concocting the perfect meal, there’s the same search for just the right bits and just the right balance of those bits—too much spice overpowers, diminishing/desensitizing the tastes buds, and flavour is actually lost, not enhanced. Too little seasoning and there’s no interest, no pizzazz.

And to cook well, you have to be brave, willing to experiment, not afraid to fail . . .

But you also have to build on prior knowledge—yours and others. Cooking is a pleasure and an art. It is also darn hard (and hot!) work sometimes. And there will always be those who don’t appreciate what you have to offer.

What you put into your work always counts. You can wreck quality ingredients, but it is hard to totally ruin them. On the other hand, however, if you start with crap—processed, chemically enhanced, super sugary, high fat junk—well, people might ingest it, might even think they like it, but for how long? That kind of meal does nothing for a person over the long term, has no lasting satisfaction and makes you feel empty sooner than later.

Good meals take time to prepare and they can be labour intensive, but the subtle flavours, complex layers and textures, the sensuous details—they give something to you that lasts far after you’ve finished the last bite. They become a part of your overall health and well-being. They create a feeling of abundance and community, and even if the taste was bittersweet, you’re better off for having experienced it.

Cooking and writing. I’ve yet to find better forms of nourishment. How about you? Is there something else that you do in life that echoes the joy and satisfaction that writing gives you?

p.s. My extended metaphor may have been a little over top for some of you (especially if cooking is your nemesis), but if you enjoyed it—or want a different analogy altogether—check out Jen Brubacher’s rather brilliant comparison between writing and building a house. It’s fun and very apt!

p.p.s. I’ve talked about cooking here before, if you’re interested in souping it up . . . :)

Souping it up

I’m a bit of a soup addict. Whenever I’m stressed, inching toward depressed, or feeling blue about something, I make soup. Chopping and grating, bringing to a boil, simmering. . . tasting. The steamy aromas of mingled garlic, onion, occasionally ginger . . . Mmm.

There’s something Zen about cooking in general, and making soup from scratch especially. And like my aunt says, even if you can’t cook, it’s hard not to make great soup, so long as you use quality ingredients. It will sound corny, but I think she’s right only to a point. Something of yourself has to go into the pot too—your love, your affection, your hope, your well wishes . . .

Yesterday I made salmon chowder (from a Spring my son caught last summer) and while I consider myself a decent cook, I impressed even myself. I was wowed by the scrumptious creamy, savoury results. I used a recipe from Allrecipes.com, then modified it (as is my style) ‘til the concoction in my pot could never be recreated using the recipe card sitting on my counter.

As I cooked (and tasted!), my mind wandered all over the place, but especially back to the novel that I’m working on. In the last scene, written just shortly before I started dinner, my MC was making soup. And there were soup references in my last novel too. The books aren’t the type that will be marketed at gourmands, with recipes in the back (though I do love those). In fact, the scenes are very brief—I don’t know if a reader would even consciously remember them, but they are, I realized, symbolic.

Soup is the epitome of comfort food, belonging and home. Every culture has its own variations of the dish, and while soup can be whimsical, there’s nothing trendy or passé about throwing things in a pot to simmer and blend all together into something, always a bit different, always good. Soup, regardless of its name, is as old as the human race.

And what does my character want and crave, but not have? Family. A sense of belonging. A home.

Food and eating of all kinds (not just soup!) has weighty (no pun intended) positive and negative connotations for the character as an individual and within his/her relationships. What your character eats or doesn’t eat, and the way they eat—standing over the kitchen sink, or with wine and candles even when alone—says a lot about their personality, their desires, their family background, their financial situation and so much more.

The way characters prepare food (or don’t) also shows who they are, how they perceive themselves, and how they want to be perceived by others. I don’t know what this says about me, but when I make soup, I feel like a good mom. What does your character feel like? A house elf? A slave? A fortunate soul to be able to cook when so many people in the world can’t put food on the table?

We shouldn’t make every scene about drinking tea or buttering fresh baguette, but we should remember that all humans everywhere eat—or need to eat—and have strong feelings about food. Sneaking in small sensory details about this primal need can be a great way to reveal information about your character.

So how about it? Have you ever considered what the food references in your story might be saying about your characters? Would adding some details about eating somehow enhance your characterization?