The Creative Writing Metaphor
In the First World, where many of our basic needs are met on a daily basis, the joy of creativity can extend to many areas of life, including home decorations, apparel, the style of your hair, the way you raise your kids, your finances, and so on. It is a freedom for us so blessed to find that the struggle to survive is perhaps not so pressing and we can learn, develop, or accumulate skills in all of these areas. We also share these things with others, so it is like a great celebration of creativity, for the fortunate ones, in even life's smallest details.
Without a doubt, one of these is the preparation of food and meals. So, to extend the allegory, because almost everyone either enjoys food or cooks, let us compare what we can find out about ourselves as we cook food with what we can find out about ourselves as we practice creative writing.
Food of all kinds is one of Planet Earth's great teachers and a metaphor or allegory of almost every other area of life. It is God's living word to the soul of humankind if you are religious. It is a provision and sustenance, as well as a great pleasure. Writing, on the other hand, is something human beings have come up with and thus departs from more reliable and sturdy strongholds of what is real and good, taking us from what we eat to what we think. As we write, we would do well to view our written work relative to something much more basic: chow.
Few, if any, can create a new kind of food. Fruits and vegetables can be altered in their seed stage to produce odd things like the tangelo, or a new variety of wine grape, or even a certain type of beef cattle, and so on, much as people breed dogs. But new as it applies to food is rather an oxymoron; almost literally, it cannot be done. New recipes and combinations, yes, new foods, are not going to happen.
The lesson here as you creatively write is that the quest for the new that so many writers hold forth as the ultimate in creativity is truly very similar to the above. Much sorrow enters the world this way. In your creative writing, you can be limitlessly creative, wild, and free in the safe havens of goodwill and reason; but what you place on the plate of the reader's imagination, like a meal, will be at least somewhat unwelcome to the extent that it is grossly unfamiliar. If someone prepares to eat a meal at your home and, staring down at the plate of food, simply cannot recognize it as anything the person ever has eaten before or heard of at all, the appetite may suffer.
The point is that where nature makes things clear regarding food preparation, in the mind and mental processes you must harness to your writing, it is a creative process of careful selection: word choices and selections of ideas and concepts, themes, characters, locations, and settings, or even the language you compose in that make up a story, poem, drama, and so on. You can look at it as you would learning to cook or learning a new recipe.
Like cooking, there are styles, types, genres, modalities, and formats, as well as ingredients, spices, oils, sauces, and so on. Think of the last time you were in the kitchen whipping up a wonderful meal for your family or friends. If you do not have that to draw on, think of the last time you were in a nice restaurant. The food is first raw or uncooked. It needs to be washed, chopped up or sliced, or mixed and kneaded, and then in a clean and well-lit kitchen, tumbled together just as the recipe calls for. Then it is heated appropriately, similar to the heat of the writer's passion for a story or idea. Food processor and word processor bear a likeness. When the presentation is ready, the creative chef or creative writer is allowed the same kind of joy with appreciative consumers who come back again and again for more.
When you are at a loss about your writing, think about each project in the same way you think about cooking, preparing, and enjoying food and meals. You have opened a doorway to easier and simpler removal of creative blocks for your writing. Writing is actually very different from cooking, so different that the similarities are pretty ephemeral. You might compare writing to running a footrace, driving a car, or chatting with a friend. But when you sit down to write, it is just you and the pen or you and the keyboard
To cook is far more physical: You handle the colorful food items, slice and dice, or knead and roll, etc. Those visceral elements are what make cooking so fun, and the big payoff is when you and loved ones sit down to enjoy the meal together, sharing or talking, or even enjoying some romance with a nice glass of wine. You want those rewards as you write, or it can be a very dull and dreary task. Maybe that is why not a lot of people have the temperament for it. One might say that the long-haul writer deserves snacks and a cool iced tea at her or his desk; but in the writing process, how do you really get the same zing as in other activities? Flavor, money, respect, admiration?
It is really true that in most writing the anticipation of audience approval, delight, and participation, as well as any pay, is one of the strongest motivations you will have as you go along. So with each piece of writing, in general, try to figure out for yourself what you will do with the item once it is finished before you even start. This means determining the market you will sell it to, or whether you plan to publish it yourself, or that it is only an assignment, or if that it will be a great screenplay suitable for the big screen, and so on. Family and friends will enjoy your writing, too, just as they may your meals. However, a bigger audience, a bigger sale, and specific marketing plans are much the same as the gourmet chef preparing a sumptuous meal for a banquet hall full of hungry guests. As the chef works and sweats, she or he is assured the work will be enjoyed and thus is more motivated and creative.
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