When I am stuck in a creative rut, drained of inspiration or energy, I look to other artists for a jump start. Over the past few months, I’ve been listening to interviews with chefs and podcasts about cooking (and eating), reading cookbooks, paying attention to scenes with food in literature (more on that later) and watching shows about chefs. Here are two lessons I’ve learned from chefs I am applying to my writing philosophy.
Lesson 1: Evoke feelings and memories
Most chefs I know after work do not want to go out to dinner and be forced to think about what they’re eating in a critical or analytical way. They want to experience food as they did as children, in an emotional way, the pure pleasure of that bowl of spicy noodles or even a bowl of soup that their mom gave them on a rainy day when they’d been bullied in school. I mean, that’s a happy time when you can escape this world, you know, and lose yourself in food. So these are recipes that try to evoke those kinds of feelings and emotions. – Anthony Bourdain
Cookie maven Dorie Greenspan said, “Cookies are memories.”
Often our subconscious brains are making connections our conscious brains take time to recognize. Food, stories and all art can trigger those connections. I recently read a passage that so quickly transported me back to something that happened years ago that while my eyes scanned the words on the pages, my mind wandered to that real life experience. When I realized I’d stop paying attention to the text, I went back and re-read the text, and brought back the sensory experience, which made for all the more enriching of an experience.
Michael Cunningham said he writes for about five people, one of whom is a woman he met while at Iowa. She worked multiple jobs while raising her kids, but made time to read every day. He writes for her to remind himself that stories should be entertaining. He’s happy when he can tell himself that Marie’s going to love this ending.
Lesson 2: Start fresh
After great notoriety and running Alinea in Chicago successfully for ten years, Grant Achatz and his business partners closed its doors for five months to renovate.
We’re ripping apart a restaurant that is working incredibly well. It’s the busiest it’s ever been. Why fix something that’s not broken? Well, because if we’re going to wholeheartedly going to uphold that philosophy that we started ten years ago, “The beginning of a new train of thought,” I feel like that’s our obligation. We have to just make it a clean slate. Now we’re asking ourselves “Can we eliminate what we’ve been doing for the last ten years and start over?” And the answer is “yeah.” – Grant Achatz
A blank sheet of paper or a blinking cursor can be overwhelming, demoralizing and stunt creativity. Or, it can enliven it.
The Flexible Persona’s senior editor Cheska Lynn wrote, “During revision from an empty document—with your draft beside you for reference—a world of possibility will open.”
Change is hard. Change when something isn’t broken is even tougher. Stasis and routine are enemies of creativity, so I admire Mr. Achatz for digging deeper. Since it reopened in May 2016 Alinea was ranked twenty-first of the 50 Best Restaurants in the World, so that’s something.
Melissa Koss is a Senior Associate Fiction Editor for The Flexible Persona.