Friday, 4 May 2012
Why is writing like a cookery lesson?
This week I had a cooking lesson in a professional kitchen in a restaurant. My parents bought me the lesson as a gift for my birthday last year, and I finally got around to booking a date.
I'd been nervous about doing it. I'd been nervous about even picking up the phone and booking it. What would they need to know? Would they ask what I wanted to cook? I had no idea! There was nothing I had a burning desire to know how to create. Just something. Something good. Something that, if possible, other people might like too.
If I'm honest, I didn't feel as though I knew enough about cookery, about food, about ingredients, to even manage a decent discussion about it all. So I kept putting if off.
Again and again, the voucher came to the top of my 'to do' pile. Again and again, I put it back at the bottom.
But a few weeks ago I was in a doing mood. I wanted to clear my desk, as far as I could. There was so much paper all over it, so many things outstanding. The cookery lesson was one of them. And before I could change my mind, I grabbed the phone, dialled the number... and it was done.
Andre, the chef, was friendly, and happily chatted through ideas, suggesting this and that, and I agreed to all of it, not just because I didn't know what else I would do if I said no, but also because it all sounded delicious - twice baked Parmesan souffle with a cream sauce, cherry smoked honey glazed duck breast with ana potatoes and chargrilled courgettes, and finally a chocolate tart with an espresso creme anglais.
The lesson came around quickly. I worried about this and that, fretted over silly things - where would I park? What would I say? What if it went wrong? - but I got there. I made it. And I really enjoyed myself in the end.
Two and a half hours went by in seconds, and I loved every moment. The food was delicious, and I've got the tools and recipes to do it again, on my own.
It wasn't until I was driving home that I realised how much like writing this cookery lesson really was.
Bear with me, I know it seems strange, but think about this...
I was scared to start. I didn't know how to begin, I didn't know what words to use, I had no idea about what I wanted to end up with, only the vague thought that it should be good. And that I should be able to share it.
Well, surely that is like the blank page? You want to write a story, a novel, a poem... You want to write something. Just like creating a menu, the idea must be mulled over, picked about, made the best it can be. At the very least the ingredients should be decided upon. Perhaps like me you've opened that empty page and stared at it until it becomes so frustrating that you can't stand it any longer and just start to write. You just dive in with no plan - no recipe. And then, how many times have you become stuck, and abandoned the whole thing halfway through because you've lost your direction?
I agree that there are times when just grabbing at ingredients (or words) and throwing them together can create something interesting and special and really rather good. And that's fine. That's great. But recreating it is going to be tricky. With no recipe or plan, success could well be a one off. If people have enjoyed the thrown together story or meal, wonderful. That's a fantastic thing. But what if they want more? That's the point, to make them search you out, find your stuff, devour it. You want to be able to do it again and again.
Not only that - doing it the hard way takes a long time. Which is fine if time is what you have. But I don't. I don't have a second to spare when it comes to writing, so I have to make it count.
In the kitchen, it was only when everything was prepared - recipes read through, lists made, ingredients weighed, measured, chopped and whisked - that we began to cook. There was no panic, nothing was missing, no one burned anything or forget anything or wasted anything.
And although the lesson was two and a half hours long, we worked the whole time, efficiently. Moments were taken to taste, to re-season or add extra this and that (to edit, you might say), and then we got on with making the food - writing the story.
If we had waited until we had started to prepare food to find ingredients, to get the right equipment in the right place, those two and a half hours would have been manic, stressful, and rushed. The end product would not have been as good as it could have been.
We would have been disappointed, and no one would have come back for more.
So for me, since I have very little spare time in which to write, writing is like a cookery lesson. Plan, prepare, be calm, and only when you're really ready, go for it.