July 30, 2013

Writing a Story is Like Learning to Cook

You know that moment, when you taste something amazing? Maybe you're at a restaurant, or it's one of your grandmother's famous recipes. When you finish eating, you look down at your empty plate and you think, "I have to eat this again."

There are ways to make this happen. You can keep coming to the restaurant, you can beg your grandma to make more, or maybe... just maybe... you can make it at home. 

When that thought enters your mind, you have to assess your time, your talent in the kitchen, and how difficult the recipe will be. Do you have the patience? Can you figure out the ingredients? Will you ever be able to make something that tastes this great?

When you have complete control over what goes into the dish, maybe your creative side goes a little crazy. "You know, it could be really good with fresh mint... Ooh! Or basil!"

But you need to be careful. Too much creativity can get in the way of what you're really trying to achieve: yummy culinary goodness.

Weaving a good story is like nailing the recipe that has haunted you ever since you tasted it.

Like cooking, writing a story can be dangerous if you don't balance knowledge and creativity. You don't want to wind up with cheesy-banana trout. You want your readers to get joy from your book. You want make a book that's magical, the way other authors have done for you.

But if it's not fun, you're probably doing it wrong. When I stress out about a book, or do so much research my brain hurts, it comes out in my story. The characters get boring. The tension falls flat like an under-cooked souffle.

I'm still fairly new at this writing thing. Cognitive psychologists tell us it takes ten years before a writer reaches excellence. I've been going strong for about 6 now. And like my cooking skills, my writing is inconsistent. Sometimes I write something that would make my readers turn green. So I go back, I chop out the rough parts of the story, rearrange some key elements, and beef-up the personality of my characters. I find the weak spots and figure out what I can add to balance the story or make it richer.

The beauty of writing is: the reader doesn't see every draft.

My early draft work is a pile of failed attempts. Eventually, I get something I think is publishable, but there's always work involved that isn't seen by the rest of the world.

No matter what you want to get good at, there's work that goes on behind the curtain.

But if it's something you really want, and if you put in enough effort (and patience and sacrifice), you can make something worthwhile.

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