Recently, I watched a show in which a seasoned bag-maker was showing a new hire the ropes. In a seemingly unusual move, the veteran began teaching his charge how to cook, explaining to him that cooking was a lot like bag making, in that one needed to effectively put different materials together to create a good end product.
I realised this was relatable to me, too.
As a writer, my objectives are similar. If I could use cooking as an analogy, ingredients would be my command of the language; utensils would be the style of writing; and garnishes, everything extra — quirks, complex words, phrases, essence that adds flavour. I quickly learned that having all the ingredients in the world didn’t make me a good cook; I had to understand them on an intimate level, knowing what each individual ingredient could bring to the dish, and figuring out which ingredients worked well together.
Seasoning is, without a doubt, an all-important aspect of cooking, whether I was sprinkling just salt and pepper, marinating entire proteins with sauce, or infusing a variety of herbs. Often, seasoning felt like treading across a fine line; I needed to know how much seasoning to add — too much, and dish becomes overpowering; too little, and it remains flavourless.
I also had to determine how I wanted to cook my dish, baked or sautéed, fried or grilled. This became more pertinent when I started cooking for others. I had to discern their palates, food that they liked and disliked, lest I served something inherently delicious, but would never be appreciated by them. I shudder to weigh the consequences should I ever cook something that triggers a person’s allergies.
So after all that hard work, my dish would finally be ready, and I could then afford myself some sense of satisfaction, knowing that I poured my heart into the food. I might even wonder, just what I’d want to cook next.
Cooking and writing are clearly different, so what binds these two forms of art, as well as others? I’d like to believe that for all our knowledge and skills, we are ultimately driven to create by an insatiable curiosity and a penchant to experiment. As a boy, I loved mixing different soaps together, hoping to create a new scent. I loved building different circuits with the same box of train track pieces I had. And, while I’d like to disclaim that I am not as skilled a cook as I might make myself out to be, I loved experimenting with different herbs and condiments as I sought to create new flavours. Some dishes fell flat, some tracks were left incomplete, and more often than not, my soapy episodes were nothing more than a waste of time and money, but I am convinced that those experiences have contributed to my writing journey, and will continue to do so.
Sometimes, the way to be better at your craft isn’t always to keep practising on that one craft; do something else on the side that will allow you to create from another perspective. Perhaps that could be the breakthrough you’ve been searching for.