Fall arrives this week, and we thought we’d dig up some thoughts from the archive. As we return to the warmth of autumn words from the bright stories of summer, here are some of Camille’s reflections on two of her passions. Turns out they have a lot more in common than you’d think!
Here are five simple strategies that can increase your chances for success – whether you are working in the kitchen, or at the keyboard:
1. Know when to leave things alone. Like cupcakes and mashed potatoes, words can be overworked and leave a lasting distaste for the recipient. Know when to get up and leave the kitchen instead of destroying something with potential. Know when to walk away from your words, what to throw away, and what to put aside. Artists are often our own worst enemies.
2. Put your soul into it. It’s not real food if you don’t put your heart into it. I’m not talking about the roasted broccoli or grilled chicken you make on a Tuesday, but the five hour feast you make for your rag-tag gaggle of pals on a long, steamy-window Saturday night. There’s something different about food when it’s not cooked academically. Words are much the same and require the same sort of audience. Writing for oneself is important, but you’ll never feel the same kind of fulfillment as you will when someone says “that meant something to me.” It doesn’t matter if it’s a blog post or War and Peace, sharing is a part and parcel of the call and response inherent to being a creative.
3. But, be careful with yourself. Fire is the essence of creation, but it can also cause mortal damage and lasting pain. A sharp knife can be your best friend, but leave you fingerless if you aren’t paying attention. There are very few times in writing — in life — when dropping your still-beating heart on the table will yield the desired results. Be brave, daring, open, but don’t leave anything out there you can’t live without. Learn how to use all of your tools before you go for a big flambé finish.
4. Don’t attempt to be perfect at everything. It isn’t realistic to be an expert at all types of cooking or all types of writing. In my own personal kitchen, I know better than to try to execute things that require high precision methods, like soufflés. I’m also a complete failure at meatloaf — so much so I’ve been banned from trying again. It looks simple, but remains a mystery to me. And that’s okay. I enjoy other people’s meatloaf instead and relish the joy and humor in my own ineptitude. Knowing your limitations keeps you from being frustrated as you leverage strengths and avoid weaknesses. Embrace what you’re good at, especially in your writing. Whether it’s your brilliant pacing, corkscrew plot, or vibrant voice, love it and it will love you back.
5. Beware of bad advice. My Betty Crocker Cookbook, circa 1972, says the following: “If you care about pleasing a man– bake a pie. But make sure it’s a perfect pie.” That’s bad advice. The man in my house makes the pie because I could care less about it and pleasure in our relationship has nothing to do with baked goods. The writing world is rife with bad advice, too, and even well meaning editors will try to steer your creations into molds that won’t fit your vision of who you are and what you want to say. Stay true to yourself and if something rings untrue, follow your instinct, even if you admire the messenger. Even the best chef makes mistakes, misinterprets directions, over-salts things. Consider the advice you receive carefully, and make sure it resonates with your own vision (this advice included).
*This feature originally appeared at Treehouse Magazine.