Think of writing as preparing a sumptuous feast for your readers. Pre-writing is everything you do to get ready: reading recipes, collecting ingredients, planning the meal. Research is preparation: peeling, chopping, marinating and parboiling. Finally, you begin to mix ingredients, sautéing, stirring, kneading. Once everything is together, cooking takes time, often lots of it. We have to let doughs rise and stews simmer, and often then rearrange the food into loaves or casseroles and bake them before the final presentation.
At the risk of exposing my lack of both culinary and writing skills (important disclaimer—I hate cooking!), here is an extended romp through this analogy. Perhaps it will inspire you to pull out your whisk, or your pen.
Choosing what to make: dessert or main dish, appetizers or salad? Choosing what to write: Fiction/nonfiction? Poem, novel, devotional, article, picture book?
Sometimes you start with the main ingredient, sometimes you know you have to make a salad or a main dish. Sometimes you start with an idea, sometimes you start with an assignment.
Who’s coming for dinner?? Considering the audience: imagine, describe your target reader.
Once you’ve decided what you are making, you move on to gathering ingredients:
What’s in the pantry, fridge, garden, freezer? What’s on sale? What do you need to pick up/find?
Next may come trips to the store, catalog shopping, even borrowing from the neighbors.
Ingredients for our writing recipes are also found in many places: We do research. Conduct interviews. Other sources of information are less formal: Observing/keeping “antennae” up. Casual reading. All the while we are brainstorming, note taking and making lists.
Really good cooks often have secret ingredients and specialty items. As writers we want to include unique, obscure bits that make the piece.
Of course before you actually begin to prepare the food, you wash your hands! As writers we need to wash our brains – pray, or get centered, or invoke your muse. Put on that music that always gets your juices flowing, or put on those sound-blocking headphones that eliminate all distractions. Different writers have different rituals (and some of us have different rituals for different kinds of writing).
On to preparing the ingredients: These are just loose associations, and not every recipe will require every step. You’ll probably come up with others.
Peel: Free writing, notebook or journal writing. Chop: Selecting and discarding. Marinate: Remembering and meditating. Parboil: Scoping out the “competition” (what else is out there? How is mine going to be different?)
Finally we start combining ingredients. Again there are a variety of methods:
Sift: Outlining. Season: Drawing/doodling. Dredge: Visualizing. Sauté: (light and quick): Discussion (use extreme care – too much discussion can definitely result in soggy, ideas.) Rinse, salt and drain: Play “what if.” Combine and set aside: Rough out scenes, snatches of dialogue . Blending, creaming, beating, stirring, folding, whipping: Webbing, clustering, or using graphic organizers.
Time for dough to rise, stew to simmer, etc. Time to let idea grow, and time between drafts to gain perspective.
Arrange, bake and then – serve! Polish that manuscript, and send it forth!
Another parallel: if you’ve never made this dish before, you would probably serve it to friends and family and get their reactions, possibly tweaking the recipe before serving it to the boss or bringing it to the county fair. Similarly, you want to get your manuscript to your critique group or trusted readers before it goes out to an editor.