Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Cooking up a novel

Having spent the last few days eating sugar I decided today to fill us with some nutrients and searched the net for a recipe for vegetable stew, hoping to imitate a dish I had recently tried at Greystone Farm shop tea rooms. The Internet being what it is the search threw up a myriad of variants (I settled on the African version from a site specialising in fat free recipes, a fact that allowed me to also make the tangy lemon squares for desert without guilt). However, among the google results was a rather surprising but equally nourishing one - a poem fron Myra Schneider entitled Root Vegetable Stew complete with interview with the author.

Now, I'd like to say that I was inspired and that I sat down and wrote my own poem entitled 'Ode to Australian Women's Baking Book', or some such, but I didn't. Not that I am ruling it out for the future. It's just that I had a few slips and had my kitchen experiences tonight produced any actual writing, it would have been more like 'Ode to the egg that cracked in the carton and made the cardboard all soggy' or a haiku on the feel of lemon juice on Italian floor tiles. So as yet, no poem. But, as I was tipping sweet potato peelings into the bin and licking mashed butter and icing sugar from the whisks ( come on, don't tell me you don't do the same) I did manage to think about first drafts.

When I determined to take some days off work to concentrate on my novel (the first of which is tomorrow) I also decided to set myself up with some inspirational books on writing to keep me focused and learning as I wrote. So, earlier today I was reading an excerpt from Annie Dillard's Bird by Bird found in a chapter on getting started in Janet Burroway's Writing Fiction. She expresses her point eloquently but if I can paraprhase her: she reccomends forcing yourself to write 'shitty first drafts' and sees them as an essential first stage to producing wonderful work after several edits. As an example she tells how she went through drwan out processes writing restauarnt reviews, starting with utterly unpublishable words, agonising in case she was run over by a bus before she could improve on them and anyone saw what kind of writer she really was.

It's starkly obvious when you read it in a text book on writing: its utterly unrealistic to think that a first draft can be perfect. In fact, many writers would get little or no pleasure from producing perfect work first off because much of the pleasure of writing is in the crafting, the polishing and creating. The making something rather than the recieving of something. Yet at the same time we paralyse oursleves with the belief that we cannot spoil a blank page with first draft twaddle. We demand the 'right environment', a dedicated and uninterrupted writing time, before we will start.

Cooking for me is another form of creativity, especally baking. Yet I never stare at the empty cake pan worrying that it may turn out sunken or burned. I do not take out the utensils and then spend the next five hours avoiding starting. I do not even agonise about which cake to bake - I just lucky dip into a cook book, or more likley, work out what I can make from that limited ingredients in the cupboard. I can cook in the spare minutes around other activities - a tray of raspberry muffins is in the oven ten minutes after I start and who cares if I had to push aside the tins waiting for recycling and the unwashed liquidiser jug to find room for my mixing bowl? I think nothing of checking on the lasagne and throwing in the garlic slices between the beating and the folding stages. I happily make a messy batter of broken eggs and clouds of flour, confident that a bowl of slop is a necessary pre-requisite for a marble cake or a dozen squares of fudge brownies. And if they go wrong? I'll scrape them into the bin and make another batch.

So why should my attitude to writing be any different? I can't think of any reason why. So tomorrow, I am going to bake me a novel. And if it looks sloppy and half-baked? Well, then I shall set it aside to cook for a while and meantime, I shall enjoy licking my bowl clean of churned up ingredients. After all, that's still the best part of baking isn't it?

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