Recipe books, cooking shows and personality chefs certainly are the flavour of the moment, aren’t they! And why not? Everyone loves a great new taste, a new sensory treat; and creative chefs love to dream up new combinations and delights to surprise and delight the consumer.
So has this got anything to do with writing? Well, perhaps it has. The writer as chef? Creating a new and unique blend of story ingredients, to delight and captivate the reader? Certainly. But let’s take a step back, and consider the writer? Is there a recipe to create a successful writer? Perhaps! Let’s explore this mad idea.
What does it take to be a successful writer?
First a writer must love the business of writing. Igor Stravinsky, the Russian composer, declared In order to create there must be a dynamic force, and what force is more potent than love?
Putting pen to paper, tapping at a keyboard, speaking into a voice-activated word processor – these are the first and basic activities of a writer, and they demand many lonely hours, so best the writer is having fun and doing what he or she loves!
Secondly, a writer must be a lover of words and phrases, and must be willing to explore ever-new ways to express ideas and emotions. The writer must cherish at least one wellthumbed dictionary, and a battered thesaurus or two. These are always on hand, frequently used, and often glanced through just for the pleasure of the chance discoveries.
Patience has to be an ingredient too. Patience and persistence. Getting that story down on paper is just the first step, and probably the easiest. The hard work, the real work of a writer comes next, as the work is rested, redrafted, rested and redrafted several times, edited and checked, polished and polished again.
More than anything, the writer needs to learn – from reading widely, from teachers of every source – writing schools, distance education, books, writing group work, peers, wherever and whenever. Amongst the learning, weave in a willingness to experiment playfully with many genres and styles, to see which ones fit comfortably. This is one of the ‘secret spice’ ingredients that makes all the difference.
Humility is needed too. Everyone has an idea for you, everyone can tell you how you should have written that last story, how it could be improved, and what to choose for your next attempt. A new writer may feel overwhelmed. But there is value here because, among all that, there are always some gems of criticism and guidance. The writer who refuses to listen to feedback, to even consider the points raised, is going to miss out on those gems.
Unexpectedly perhaps, a writer needs to be well organised. All those jottings, all those scribbled notes, all those illegible aide memoirs jotted on the backs of shopping lists – these all must be collated, and transcribed, into meaningful blocks of resource material. Likewise, the newspaper clippings, those collected magazine articles, the inspirational photographs are only going to inspire amazing writing if they are available for reference. This may be in a concertina file, or copied to computer files, or sorted into subject files and stored in a shoe box. It hardly matters how it is done, so long as the material is ordered and available to support the writer.
So our list of ingredients now includes:
• A love of writing
• A love of words
• Patience and persistence
• A willingness to learn, combined with a love of reading
• Organisational skills
In any recipe, the list of ingredients is just the beginning. It is the way those ingredients are combined and cooked that dictates the success of the dish. So how are our ingredients to be combined to create a successful writer?
The main technique used in this creation of a successful writer is TIME. Time to learn, to explore, to play with ideas, time for ideas to mature and ripen, time for stories to develop and grow.
Well, let’s put this recipe together.
Start with a love of words. Nurture and develop this with a rich variety of reading and playful storytelling throughout childhood. This takes time. Allow more time to leaven it with a love of writing, again nurture and develop this over years rather than months. Add generous dollops of patience and perseverance, borrowed, if necessary from other areas of personality development. The learning, combined with the reading, will be continuous throughout the life of the writer – it starts early, and is never done. The humility will work itself in, piece by piece, as the world squashes the natural inflated ego of youth. And the organisational skills can be added at any and every stage.
Of course, one could argue for a pinch of genius, and it certainly could only improve the result. But far more important, I would argue, is the addition of a generous dollop of persistence – this is more influential than the pinch of genius and will have a positive impact on the result.
So there it is – a recipe for a successful writer. As in the production of a great wine, it takes years to mature this recipe to perfection, and it simply cannot be rushed. But that is true for many skills, not just writing. For example, the first time I manage to play a complete piece on a violin, it may be quite good. But there can be no doubt that if I practise, if I persist with my studies and efforts, the hundredth time I play it will be infinitely better. So it is with writing.
Does all of this describe you? Do you love writing? Do you allow yourself plenty of time to read widely? To read the work of your peers, as well as the latest pulp fiction, and the deepest literature? Poetry, plays, travel essays, magazines – even recipes! Do you snip inspiring extracts, copy great phrases, eavesdrop on public conversations for inspiration? Do you write playfully, simply for the joy of stretching the writing muscle? Are you prepared to put a piece of writing away for weeks, and turn your attention elsewhere? And does all this bring you joy? If the answer is yes, you are surely a writer! And as a writer, whether new, emerging or widely practiced, you are a part of a wonderful network of writers and writing.
So be patient as your writing practice develops. Allow time for learning, growth and maturing – and like a great wine maker, have patience and faith in the glorious result to come. And enjoy both the gradual developmental maturing and the successful outcome.