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

Thanksgiving Advice to my fellow writers

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!
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