Monday, February 4, 2013


(Radine Trees Nehring here -- writing in for Marilyn Levinson, who needed to be off today.)

Most everyone on the planet understands something about cooking, right?  Even if they've never cooked, they understand the process.

However, not everyone understands the work of professional writers. We get questions about where our ideas come from, what our day is like, and multiple statements related to "I know I couldn't write a book, how do you do it?"

Therefore, for our own help, and for anyone befuddled about the writing process, how about relating writing and cooking?  Here we go:

EQUIPMENT:  Stove, pans, and so on.  And, if we are writers, how about comfort with correct English usage (or whatever language we use), a background reading many books in the genre or type we want to write, a willingness to learn and continue learning our profession, and an ability to persist to our goal.

Equipment ready?  Okay, on to:

INGREDIENTS:  (Let's assume we're making some sort of meat and rice casserole.)

Meat::   Necessary ingredient, as is, for a writer, a story, a message, or an article idea.

Tomato sauce:  A binder that unites all ingredients in the recipe, just as an interesting location does in both fiction and non-fiction. In fiction of course the location can be -- well -- fiction, but the look, feel, atmosphere, of a planet "far, far away," must be as real for the writer as Main Street, USA.  If it seems real to the person creating it, it becomes real for the reader.

Chopped veggies:  A variety, such as onions, peppers, celery.  This is easy to relate to the characters we writers put in our work. Varied? Yes. Characters must have distinct personalities, emotions, motives, and so on. Put in the casserole mix, veggies are still distinct.  Put into the story or message mix, the people involved should be just as distinct.  (Warning, if you overload a meat and rice casserole with veggies the taste can become confusing. If you overload a story with too many distinct characters, that will blunt the intended impact and often confuse the reader..)

Rice:  One grain of rice looks like any other, right?  Uniformity. Okay, a writer should choose a point or view and stay with it consistently or, if it changes, make changes smooth and easily understood. 

Salt:  We know what the round blue box of salt is like. Lots of salt. We know what happens if we spill too much in the dish we are creating. (Pflaagh!)  Our research will turn up a big box of information, but only a small shake of that will end up in our writing. Too much dumped in, and -- pflaagh, the reader may lose the story and shut the book.

Pepper:   Unique, but subtle. Too much and we spit or sneeze. The same with voice and inflection. Can distinct ways of speaking be detected for each character?  Do these stop us, or glide by as we enjoy listening to a conversation. (No, "She's gwine-a be cuttin' the livin' daylights outa him.")  (WHAT?)

Herb # 1:  A touch of subtle flavor to delight. For a writer, the same can be said of inventive creative writing. But not too much, and not over-used oldies. ("Her eyes are like stars" was great -- the first time it was used.)  
Herb # 2:  Another subtle touch of flavor. How about, in writing, a bit of action by a character that shows her kindness?  His moral code?  Good place for showing, not telling.

Oven heat: OR suspense, drama. Heat first, or turn on the oven and let heat build?  The cook and the writer control this.

Cooking time:  Time needed to achieve goals.

EATING!!!  Satisfying resolution of problems, answers to questions, knowledge taken away. And, one must hope, enjoyment remembered.

So, let's get cooking.

Radine, at


Ricky Bush said...

Sounds yummy! I'll have to stir up that recipe.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

You made me hungry.

Radine Trees Nehring said...

Hungry for writing, I assume!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Nice analogy, Radine! If you enjoy cooking, different ideas of how turn that lump of meat into something new just come to you.

Ideas, for writers are all around us.


Sally Carpenter said...

Like cooking, a writer should let the book "cook" and not rush it out too soon. The writer should give time to let the mss. "stew" and make sure it's well polished and typo free.

Di Eats the Elephant said...

What a great analogy. I love how you seasoned it with your experience, just as I love your books. I will have to cut and paste to keep this with me for a longer time (so I can find it quickly and see if I've made the dish just right!) By the way, I had success with that chocolate cake in a cup recipe, but found adding marshmallows didn't work out so well. :)

Morgan Mandel said...

Very clever analogy, Radine!

I'm not much of a cook when it comes to food, but hopefully, I do better at cooking up good books!

Morgan Mandel