Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Writing is Like Pasta Pizza

I actually cooked dinner on Sunday. I try to do that, so I have leftovers for the week, however I am not always very successful. This Sunday, while I was hunting down my lasagna recipe, I came across my pasta pizza recipe and made that instead.

As I was going through my cooking adventure it occurred to me that there are some parallels between the writing process and the cooking process.

1. The recipe.

Most cooking begins with a recipe, however informal, and most stories start with at least a general outline. When I am preparing a receipe for the first time, I usually try to follow it exactly, on the theory that it'll give me a sense of what it's supposed to taste like. After the first time, I'll play around with it some - adding zucchini to my vegitarian lasagna recipe, for example.

When it comes to writing I am much more go-with-the-flow. I usually start with some kind of strong mental image and then build a story around it, but nothing so concrete that I can't change it up if the muse strikes. Where as with cooking the end product is a direct result of the recipe, I find that writing can be almost the opposite - the recipe, or outline - is a product of the story itself (I hope that makes sense.)

2. The ingredients.

With pasta pizza and with writing, you have to have all of the ingredients. In the case of this Sunday's endeavors, I was going to end up with more than enough mushrooms and hamburger, so I decided to make two pies. Then I got home and realized I did not have double the amount of stewed tomatoes or mozzarella. The solution - substitution! A half a can of tomato sauce and some cheddar and parmesan cheese saved the day, and I was able to make two pies.

In writing, being flexible is very important, but you also have to be careful. You often need more than a dash of plot or a splash of dialog to hold a story together and make it come out as a tasty finished product. If the story you started out writing ends up not being the story that needs to be told, that's one thing. Sometimes, though, I find I'm deviating from the path I originally set just because it's harder than I thought and I don't want to wrestle with it. Sometimes that's a sign I need to change direction, and sometimes that's being lazy.

3. The tools.

Another minor panic moment came when I realized that I did not in fact have two pizza pans any longer, but only one. I'd never made pasta pizza in a baking pan before, but since the pasta had already been cooked I was kind of committed to at least making the attempt. There were stages to the recipe - the pasta "crust" first, and then toppings - so I was able to see that the crust came out well before I added the toppings and cheese, and it was a reasonable substitution to make, but still nothing I would have wanted to attempt if I'd actually been going to serve the food to other people.

I'm finding out that writing takes more than a laptop and some time, too. It takes notebooks and forums and feedback and a support system, among other things, to really do it well. No writer is an island and I realize a little more every day that published writers who prepare and make sure they have all the tools ahead of time, and use a wide variety of them, rather than opening the oven drawer and finding out they're short a pan.

4. Soup's on!

Sometimes, despite starting out with a half-assed plan and missing ingredients and pans, everything comes out right. Fortunately for me, the baking pan version and the pizza pan version came out very well. The cheddar cheese I added didn't make it too greasy, and the parmesan I tried crisped nicely on the top. The mushrooms I added a step too early didn't get too soft and the green pepper wasn't too firm. It's really good, actually, as it almost always is.

For writing I think this means to trust your instincts. They're usually sound. As long as you start with a solid foundation, like a recipe or an outline, and make sensible changes instead of plowing ahead willy-nilly, your inner voice will almost always steer you in the right direection.

5. You have a freezer - use it.

While I suppose it's possible for me to eat two entire pasta pizzas by myself before they either went bad or I completely sick of it, it just didn't seem like a good idea. About half of one pie ended up in the freezer as soon as it cooled, so I'll have something to look forward to someday when the cupboards are bare or I want hot food without cooking something new.

One of the hardest things for me to learn was to write ideas down - just ideas not the whole darn story - so I could have them later when I was ready to actually focus on them. Honestly, I don't often have trouble coming up with ideas, it's the execution of them that seems to trip me up. I'm trying really hard not to take that for granted, though, since I'm almost certain the day will come when I don't have the luxury of an easy inspiration.

I'm also sick to death of not finishing things because a new story idea has hijacked me and then I can't get back into the original story once I've exorcised the new plot bunny. Drives me crazy, but I don't want to lose the new idea, either.

Hence the institution of at least outlining a new idea - like tupperware for stories, lol. I get enough of the bunny down to make sure I won't lose it, and even the little bit of writing on it keeps me from getting overwhelmed by the need to write the whole thing down. Still, I stay on track with what I'm really working on.

Now that I've analyzed the process to death, I suppose I'd better get to work and actually write something. Have a great day everyone!


  1. Now I'm both hungry and inspired! You really made some wonderful analogies. I found some fabulous "food for thought" here. Thank you for sharing!

  2. I'm glad you got something out of it, Darla! Thanks!