I tend to credit my mother with teaching her sons to cook (since she knew she’d never get grandkids on the strength of our other merits), but I realized tonight that I may have actually inherited most of my technique from my father. This does relate to writing, so bear with me! Dad tended to leave the cooking to Mom except for grilling in the summer, so the only real “recipe” he ever walked us through was hamburgers. It consisted less of reading off a page and more of opening the cupboards up and pondering what would taste okay mixed in with ground beef. We used at least all of the following items at one point or another, sometimes all in the same batch of burgers:
- Worcestershire sauce
- soy sauce
- anchovy paste
- barbecue sauce
- more beer
And they usually tasted pretty good. To this day I just kind of throw things in the bowl and mash them around with the beef when I make hamburgers. The technique has spilled over into my other cooking to the point that I’m often hard-pressed to tell O Best Beloved what was in something when she takes her first bite and says “This is delicious; how do you make it?”
This is also how I write. (The relevance appears!) I am dreadful at start-to-finish plans. I try to have them, just like I try to look at a couple different recipes before I start making a dish for the first time, but (just like the recipes) I tend to find myself straying immediately. It’s hard to say whether the finished product is better or worse, since I’ve never sat down and outlined an entire story and then written exactly that story with no deviations. I’m not sure I could.
I do know that the “throw it in and see what happens” approach requires watching and frequent adjusting, though, in cooking or in writing. Taste regularly by re-reading. Test the flavor pairings by reading the new material and then something else you’ve written. Open new versions in side files and re-write parts from scratch (but don’t throw out the old files, ever). Poke, prod, simmer, and stir, and try to only serve the first version of the experiment to someone who loves you very much.
Or, if you’ve got the discipline for it, plan the whole thing out so carefully that the actual writing is just draping words over a neat framework — and tell me how you did it. Like in a comment here or something.
Also, does the title of today’s post make anyone else think of folding paper in elementary school? I forget what we were folding papers for, that it mattered whether we folded along the shorter axis (“hamburger style”) or the longer one (“hot dog style”), but I sure remember the phrases.
Does that make the tri-fold used for most letters “veggie wrap style,” do you think?