My husband is a great cook, on the grill. I am a fabulous roaster.
My husband can make chili. I’m the go-to girl for a long, slow, simmering bean soup.
My husband’s steamed seafood baskets – out of this world! His rice, not so much.
Nothing in a crock pot for him.
You see, I have one talent that he does not. I’m perfectly comfortable setting something on the stove, putting it in the oven, mixing it all together, and letting it rise.
Gary, on the other hand, wants to fuss over it. He likes to turn his chicken legs a dozen times over. And that makes for a great grill cook. He likes to taste, and add, and futz. So his chili is different and fabulous every time. He enjoys the thrill of a fast-paced, high temperature challenge. And that makes popping fresh juicy, flavorful seafood.
But those same skill sets transfer poorly into roasts, soup, and rice. He doesn’t have the patience to just walk away. And when you take the lid off a steaming pot of rice or a simmering crock pot, you lose all of the heat and flavor and goodness that the dish itself generated. There’s no way to recreate that magic.
Skilled writers understand that short articles are the grills and chilis and steam baskets of the trade. You need to fuss over them, add some spices, turn them round and about. They’re a challenge to make, and they take a special sort of skill.
You need to pick fresh, quality ingredients. You have to have great raw material to write a blog post or an op-ed piece that will really stand out.
You should understand all the spices in your cabinet, how they combine, and how they don’t. Nutmeg brings out certain subtle nuances in ground beef. Ground mustard does the same for ham or eggs. But don’t combine the two. When do you use flour to thicken a sauce and when do you use corn starch?
Likewise, a writer understands when a paragraph becomes unwieldy, when a tone is appropriate (or not), and just how much metaphor a reader can bear before begging for a lighter spice.
Finally, short articles need a great garnish – an attractive set piece, some window dressing, a catchy title, and a hook to catch the reader.
But longer works like reports and journal articles and books are the soups and rices, the breads and baked goods of the trade. They embody a rich paradox in the world of writing. That is, they require that the writer tackle one task at a time while simultaneously juggling multiple tasks. We must see the whole, hold it in suspension, and address one piece of it with all our might, all without ever losing sight of the whole. No wonder so many of us are schizophrenic!
I find the best way to do that is to walk away and let it rise.
At the start of a project, I write (or draw) on one piece of paper exactly how the whole will look. I then divide that whole into its many tiny parts on other pieces of paper or in other computer files. I file the whole. And I forget about it. And each day, I pull up one part to work on.
When that part becomes too big, I divide it again. If that part becomes a dead end, I forget about it. Eventually, there comes a time when all my parts are ready, or as close as they will be. And I can begin weaving them together, like sautéing the onions and carrots and celery in the butter to lay down the base for my bean soup.
How do you do it? Are you a grill cook or a simmering genius? If you want clarity, focus, and insight into your writing process, join me on April 18th for Week One of 8 Weeks to Writing with Clarity. You’ll discover your authentic voice and learn how to meet your readers where they are. The first class is FREE, and you’re under no obligation to continue. Check it out!