One of the Andaman locations in my new novel.

Ross Island, India circa 1936, another setting in the new novel.

Reflections on a life among words

OUT TAKES ...bits and pieces of story, research, and process

Thanksgiving Advice to my fellow writers

November 27, 2014

Tags: writing advice, Thanksgiving

I’m thinking on this Thanksgiving Day that writing is like a complicated recipe.

First you need to gather the ingredients (ideas) and envision the final product; you have to have a general vision for the end result and know what it is you’re making. Then you combine the first batch of ingredients to form the foundation. Apply the necessary heat and add the next layer of ingredients, raising or lowering the temperature and repeating as needed. Then perhaps you cut the whole thing into pieces and rearrange, adding extra spice. And finally you smooth all the rough edges, add the final garnishes, format for optimal presentation and serve it up to your readers.

Now, there’s plenty of room for experimentation within this process, and it’s very possible the end result will look nothing like what you initially envisioned. Still, nobody starts a recipe without some idea of what they’re making. We don’t cook in a vacuum, and I don’t know anyone who writes in one either. Free writing is fantastic for loosening up and discovering surprises from the subconscious, but when it comes to writing a book, I think we have to have a pretty clear goal and overall vision to write toward. Otherwise we’re liable to wind up with a million beautiful crystals that just won’t coalesce into a single whole.

In a recipe there are concerns about the physical form of the final dish, but there’s also the governing issue of the dominant flavor. When you start to cook you know if you’re aiming for something sweet, savory, sour, meaty – a light dessert or a hearty entrée. Same with books. The dominant flavor determines whether the book is a tragedy, comedy, chicklit, gothic, mystery, or exposé – whatever its structural form.

But perhaps the one ingredient that all writing recipes need is curiosity. If your writing is driven by curiosity, that will help you get through even depressing memories without getting depressed. Curiosity will inject enjoyment into the process even if you’re writing about something grim. But if you’re not curious about what you’re writing, then you’re going to stall.

We have to be fascinated by our subjects. Otherwise we cannot do them justice. We won’t keep finding new questions that pull us deeper to new levels of inquiry. We’ll get bored and impatient, and our prose will become boring and impatient. But if we remain curious about what we’re going to find out, that energy will guarantee that the book turns out as well as (I hope) your Thanksgiving turkey will today!

Happy cooking and happy writing to all! And stay grateful out there!

below for more about Aimee's books & work.

Anthologies of fiction and nonfiction that Aimee has edited or contributed to.
a suspenseful novel of rescue and redemption set in Central Asia at the start of the Cold War, featuring two unforgettable heroines whose fates are irrevocably intertwined.
The unforgettable tale of star-crossed love that spans four decades and two continents.
A young photographer wrestles with her repressed past and identity as an Amerasian in New York's Chinatown. Now back in print after more than a decade, FACE is Aimee's first novel.
Work on Eating Disorders
While there are numerous memoirs available chronicling individual women’s struggles with anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders, this is the first book to bring together many people’s stories to create a complete and candid picture of the recovery process. Aimee Liu has skillfully brought together firsthand accounts of recovery to create a realistic roadmap for the journey. This book also includes informational sidebars, written by professionals in the field, on topics including treatment options, choosing the right therapist, the pros and cons of medication, how parents and spouses can help, and much more.
How do anorexia and bulimia impact life AFTER recovery? GAINING is one of the first books about eating disorders to connect the latest scientific insights to the personal truth of life before, during, and especially after anorexia and bulimia.
America's first memoir of anorexia, and one of the earliest books about eating disorders, originally published in 1979
Craft & Criticism
Resources and suggestions for students and fellow writers
Aimee's latest book reviews