Writing: What Kind of Cook Are You?

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From Amazon’s Patricia Allison Page:

The first novel
co-authored by
Alison Daniels
and
Dean Robertson
writing as
Patricia Allison
The second novel,
by Alison Daniels,
writing as
Patricia Allison

The third novel,
by Dean Robertson
writing as
Patricia Allison

The fourth novel
by Alison Daniels
writing as
Patricia Allison
Coming in 2018
by Dean Robertson
writing as
Patricia Allison

 

 

I have taken up cooking again, in a small way, and have discovered–in addition to how much I don’t like to cook–an analogy for our different ways of writing, that of two different kinds of cooks–the one who cleans after herself as she cooks; and the one who saves the cleaning until after the meal.  Cook A, the self-cleaner, looks down on Cook B, deplores her style of walking away from a dirty kitchen, pots caked with food sitting on the counter or, at best, soaking in a horrifying mix of detergent bubbles and meat grease.  Cook B, blissfully unaware of the anxiety she produces in her good friend, Cook A, does have her own attitude and considers that obsessive need to clean severely neurotic.

I am, of course, Cook A, in the kitchen, in my home, in my writing. The very categorizing of cooks and writers testifies to that.

I have now written three books: one, non-fiction; one, co-authored fiction; one, solo fiction.  I have nearly completed a second solo novel. I clean–and edit–as I go. My technique seems to vary slightly from book to book, or blog to blog, but I never write much without circling back around to edit.

I am entirely unqualified to write about the approach to cooking or writing or housekeeping that leaves all the clean-up until the meal, book, or bathroom is ripe. I believe I am temperamentally incapable of taking a shower in a dirty bathroom, of eating a meal knowing there are pots and pans waiting to be washed, or of writing anything at all knowing a huge job of editing looms ahead. One result of this on the homefront is a clean house; another is time to relax after a good meal.

But what about writing? There are at least two different types of edit-as-you-go writers. I am both (and most likely several of the others; we clean-as-you-go types lean toward excess.

 

 

 

First, without any intention or plan I rewrite as I write. It is not unusual for me to write a sentence two or three or even more times before I go on to the next sentence. If I can’t get a good feel for the sentence, I might write the paragraph or the page then read the whole thing out loud so I can hear the sentence in question in context.  At some point I will “hear” the way that sentence should sound. This process is almost automatic for me; no effort is required. It would take a huge effort to stop myself from doing this.

Until very recently this has not slowed down my writing. I still manage to produce a respectable amount of work in a relatively short time.

 

The second approach to editing as I write is a subset of the first. In the novel I am writing at the moment, I’m finding I am using it in moments when the writing isn’t moving forward. I have spent literally hours wallowing in the Thesaurus in search of the perfect word for one spot in one more-or-less insignificant sentence.  I become obsessed. I copy and paste complete lists of synonyms into a Word document so I can look at all the options together as I ponder my poor sentence.

As an aside, I would warn against the danger of addiction in the use of the Thesaurus. Once started, and unless you are a writer of strong moral fiber, you will discover yourself turning off the telephone, silencing the doorbell, leaving the mail unread for days. I did a Google search for “Synonym synonyms” and was gratified to see there were 43,100,000 possible “hits” in .62 seconds.

The Wonder of the Internet is a topic that always comes with Eeyore-like predictions of doom. I have become pathetically dependent on this source of information and so am in no position to cast stones. However, both writing and editing have been radically altered by technology, specifically by the cut and paste function of word processors. Whatever we have gained in speed and convenience, I think we have lost twofold in the whole experience of writing.  Back in the days of the manual typewriter, and even with the advent of the electric typewriter, unless you were a perfect typist, editing wasn’t optional.

If I made an error in the middle of a page or if, say, I were writing a research essay and found I hadn’t left sufficient room at the bottom of a page for my footnotes (where they were, for many years, inconveniently located), I would have no choice but to retype the entire page. There was no cut-and-paste option. It was inevitable that in typing my page over I would spot words or sentences that I saw could use improving, and I would stop and rewrite and–of necessity–rethink what I wanted to say.

I don’t ever have to do that in today’s world of word processing systems. I can cut and paste, never having to consider the violated paragraph in anything other than splendid isolation. I never have to read even the paragraphs above and below, let alone the entire page, in which the paragraph appears.  I could be pasting a paragraph from Middlemarch into the center of a page from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and who would know.  The important fact being that I, the writer, never need to know. I am relieved–or robbed–of the experience of seeing a thought or a description of mine in context. It exists in a vacuum which perhaps is not unrelated to the corruption, during this century and half of the last, of the Buddhist concept of mindfulness, translated into the modern American idiom of “Stay in the moment.” I shudder, but will resist.

Today I cooked and did a bit of non-cooking food prep, as well.   I made a delicious smoothie in the blender, and I retrieved my large pot from the cupboard where my two-year-old grandson has moved the whole set of cookware. Together we made egg-drop soup with chicken.

My grandson loves to clean up the kitchen and, between us, it is probably cleaner than it was when we started.

Today I worked on the manuscript of my next, and nearly finished, novel. I edited as I went.

 

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One Response to "Writing: What Kind of Cook Are You?"
  1. Kat Varn says:

    Your self-confessions always amuse… and resonate … with me. I like to clean as I go as well when I decide to put on the chef’s hat. My natural inkling to edit as I write has been challenged by a certain writing coach. But, I do still sit and stare at my thesaurus for a little extra spice to throw into my paragraphs. Off to rattle in my font cabinet!

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