3 Ways Writing Is Like Cooking

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Some things don’t go as planned.

I can’t say that I write every day but I write most days. I also cook most days since people seem to expect to eat.

So it isn’t surprising that I’ve ended up contemplating the similarities between cooking and writing. But it was a wee kitchen disaster that prompted this post. As you can see from the photo at left, I managed to melt a silicone hot pad (now called a not pad in the Edwards kitchen) to a cast iron skillet. When I peeled it off, dots of silicone remained.

More on the skillet later. Let’s get on to talking about writing which is a lot like cooking because it pays to . . .

Start with a plan

Whether you are cooking something complicated like Thanksgiving dinner or something simple like popcorn, you start with a plan. You need to make sure that you have the various ingredients that you need as well as the cookware and utensils.

Writing also requires a plan even if you are a pantser. Not familiar with that term? A pantser writes by the seat of their pants. That said, they still have a basic plan. A pantser knows that she is writing a picture book, a poem, or a speculative fiction novel. She knows who the main character is.

That’s a lot like cooking without a hard and fast recipe. My son cooks like this when he makes pasta with sauce from scratch. Note: It took both of us to melt the not pad to the skillet.

A plotter is someone who goes into a writing project with an outline. He knows what scenes will take place and who is in each scene. The story’s turning points have been determined. And he knows exactly where this story will end up.

This is like cooking with a recipe that you follow to the letter. That’s how I cook when I bake cookies. But a plan isn’t the only way that writing is like cooking.

Some things need to simmer

Some dishes can be prepared in a fairly short amount of time. Grilled cheese sandwiches, popcorn, and even biscuits can be made in a fairly brief amount of time.

There are writing projects that pop into your head and then you are off to work on them. Sure, you’re going to have to fine tune things once that initial draft is written but it still a relatively painless process.

I’ve had that happen a time or too. The first piece I sold, a rebus, was like that.

But many other pieces have to simmer like a soup or stew. Sure, you can try to rush it but the flavors won’t meld in 20 minutes.

Some writing projects need to be considered, tinkered with, and come back to again and again. This is my process when it comes to fiction. Even when I think I know where it is going it takes serious time to get to know my characters. Maybe it won’t always be like this but that’s how things stand now. And then there is the last way that writing and cooking are alike.

Sometimes things just don’t work out

You know how it goes. There’s the soup recipe that looked amazing but it flat and flavorless. Or the pasta sauce that could melt your skull it is so hot (true story!). Or the bean dish with the repulsive texture. Some dishes just don’t turn out.

And unfortunately the same holds true for writing. There’s the picture book with a great character who just cannot solve her own problem. Not even close. There’s the novel with the protagonist who is so unlikeable that even you, the writer, don’t want to finish her story.

When that happens, it is okay to step back. Once you calm down, a failed cake that fell apart as it came out of the pan can become cake balls. Your character may become the antagonist in another story.

Or the dish and the story may both need to be scrapped. And that’s okay too. Not everything you try is going to work. But some things will be simply amazing.

And that’s another way that writing is like cooking.

–SueBE