To Be A Great Writer, Be A Cook.

Photo by Michael Wave on Unsplash

Ingredients, Flavour, and Cooking – Words, Structure, and Writing.

In The Script Lab‘s interview with Scott Neustadter (500 Days of Summer), one of the pieces of advice he gives is that writers should learn to ‘be a cook’.

His point is that, particularly in screenwriting, there is always going to be collaboration. You need to learn to work with others to produce the best script you can.

In any professional kitchen there are any number of ‘cooks’ and together they produce the finished plate of food which you eat.

In combining your expertise with that of others you make your writing/script better – the best that you can make it.

You learn new techniques. You try different combinations of ingredients. You taste different flavourings.

You experiment and refine.

There is a tv show in the UK called Masterchef. There is an amateur, professional, and celebrity version, but they all follow the same format – everybody cooks and some go through and others don’t. Not all of the prettiest food goes through, but the food which has the best taste and shows the better technique is chosen.

As the rounds progress, the remaining cooks are given the opportunity to work in real restaurants. They learn from some of the greatest cooks in the world. They listen to feedback from the best food and restaurant writers.

Towards the final places, the cooks are expected to show their understanding of new techniques and new flavours. They are now being judged on what they have learnt as well as how great the food looks and tastes.

I get Scott Neustadter’s point.

I also get that my ability to produce the finest beans on toast wouldn’t get me very far in Masterchef.

I also get that in making that comparison my writing might not match up to my beans on toast!

So how do we be better cooks/writers?

To be a great cook you need to understand your ingredients, flavour combinations, presentation, recipes. You need to experiment and practice. One contestant in Masterchef was asked how confident they were feeling about their food and they replied that the seventeen times they had cooked it that week had all gone well!

As writers we have to understand words and how they combine with others. We need to understand the structure which binds the words together. We need to know the recipes – the greatest books in our genre or story type – and how we can tweak here and there to produce something as equal or better.

We need to practise over and over again.

That might even be at a sentence or paragraph level.

Experiment. Learn from other writers.

Try styles of writing you have never done before. Look at how they use their ingredients to produce the final dish.

What can you take and use in your own writing?

Write and experiment. Write and refine. Write and practise until you get it how you want it.

Create those amazing new plates of food.

Day 435 – The Saturday Answer.

So The Friday Question was What single thing/event would ‘supercharge’ your creative exploits?

In thinking of the question I was influenced by the exploits of current Tour de France leader Julian Alaphilippe. He is a great rider, currently No.1 in the World Rankings, but he is seen as a one-day and short tour specialist. His lead in the greatest cycle race in the world is definitely benefiting from the mysterious powers wearing the leader’s Maillot Jaune – the Yellow Jersey – can bestow upon a rider. Whether is is that extra bit of confidence, or the thought of losing it makes you dig a bit deeper, it does push the rider wearing it to new places.

So, my answer?

Having a separate writing space. A space where I essentially ‘clock’ in and out. A place where the focus is the work of writing and there aren’t other easy distractions. A place where projects are planned and scheduled for completion.

What was yours?

Masterchef for Writers.

I love tv programmes like Masterchef.

Professional or celebrity contestants try out their culinary skills through a number of rounds and challenges, some being eliminated week by week, until the final three remain, and the eventual winner is chosen.

They are judged by previous finalists and top critics. They work in professional kitchens and with Michelin Star Chefs.

I have a poor palate, no appreciable culinary skills – unless you count my awesome cheese and beans on toast – so why watch these kind of shows?

I love the invention of the dishes. I love the choice of ingredients. I love the presentation. I love the way the chefs – celebrity or professionals – have had to experiment with flavours, research recipes, test out their own food on relatives and friends.

When you write a scene or a character or a whole book, think like a chef.

Choose your dish. Choose your ingredients. Experiment. Test it out on those closest to you. Present your dish to the judges.

And if it doesn’t work?

Begin the process all over again. Think about the dish. Change the flavours. Alter the presentation. Test it out. Offer it up again.