What the Novice Should Do - A Lesson for Writers from a Home Cook

The novice should try some fairly easy dish that requires long cooking. The novice should consult several recipes and read them over a few times until he or she has gotten them straight in his or her mind. And the novice should call up the best cook he or she knows and listen to what that person says. And then the novice should stick to it. ~Home Cooking, by Laurie Colwin

Since my "retirement" I've had the time (and inclination) to dabble with Cooking. I mean, of course, the kind of cooking that's more complex than the standard recipes I've relied on for the past three decades of homemaking. To inspire me, I turned to some well known food writers for their insight and experience in the art of food preparation and enjoyment. Home Cooking, by Laurie Colwin, was mentioned as one I should read.

Life and art intersect all over the place, so it's not surprising that Cooking would have things to teach the Writer. Colwin's advice to the novice cook jumped off the page and set me thinking that it served just as well for the person planning their first novel as preparing their first dinner party.

Should the novice writer jump right in and begin the magnum opus that will make their name in literary history? Probably not. "Some fairly easy dish that requires long cooking" would certainly be more appropriate. Start out by writing a journal in which you describe events that happen to you, characters you know well or chance to meet in coffee shops. Write a little bit every day for a long number of days (maybe forever), write easily and freely and don't worry overmuch about getting it perfect just yet.

Consult other writers and teachers of writing. Learn the rules of grammar and composition. Read about writing and how others go about the process until you get it straight in your mind.

Call up the best writers you know by reading their books over and over. Study the way they put sentences together and string those sentences along on the page. Listen to the rhythm of their words and learn what works. Find other writers around you and have a conversation with them. Listen to what they say about how they prepare meals of words.

Most importantly of all, stick to it. Determination and patience are the keys to perfection, in the kitchen or on the page.

How about you? What's your recipe for writing success?