Last time I used the equation:
Thought + Write + Edit =
Ingredients + Cook + Garnish
I’m backasswards, I want to talk about editing first. We have the most
control over the last part of the creative process, which is why we
fuck it up. We let our insecurities, frustrations, and expectations get
involved, and then throw everything away.
You have a
disassembled word cake that just came out of the oven. Now what? Here
are the pitfalls to editing, and strategies on how to avoid them, all by
thinking like a chef:
1) Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen.
Cooking is not a democracy. There is a definite hierarchy. Someone is
in charge, and anyone who gets in the way is kicked out (sometimes
nicely, sometimes not).
In your brain, who’s in charge of your
word kitchen? How many parts of your personality are offering “advice”
and telling you how to stir your macaroni and cheese? Do you let the
images of your family and friends and teachers and critics into your
kitchen? Are they hovering over your stove?
If so, politely tell
them to get the fuck out of your writing and go wait in the dining
room. Especially your critic needs to get out of the kitchen, and wait
until you are done cooking.
I know this doesn’t make any sense,
and goes contrary to everything you’ve ever been told about writing, but
your critic doesn’t edit. You edit. Your critic waits until you
are done, then eats your words, then writes a review. They might send
the dish back because it’s cold or needs salt or whatever, but never let
your critic into your writing space.
Be your own word dictator.
2) Leave the Drama in Your Writing.
You are not a five-star restaurant. You don’t eat on gold plates. You
aren’t bedecked in diamonds. When a chef cooks a steak, they know it’s
just a steak.
So why do writers act all high and mighty about
what they do? Your words are just words. Do you freak out about
making a sandwich? No you don’t, so don’t freak out about writing a
sentence. Don’t act like writing is life and death. Put the melodrama
in the story, not in the process of writing the story.
3) Presentation is Everything. Here’s
an ugly truth: everyone judges books by their cover. What? No way!
That’s not fair. Yup, it isn’t fair, and life is not fair.
you wrap a sandwich in paper, people will pay less for it than if a dude
in a suit brings it on fine china to their table. That’s life.
Hardback books cost triple what a paperback costs.
So when you
edit, think about how you present your words. It should match the
intended audience. For example, I can be edgy and swear on a tumblr
blog, but in a college paper or a job, I would clean up my language.
befittingly. If you bake a chocolate cake, you might not want to
decorate it with mushrooms. Make sure the language you’ve chosen
highlights your core idea (or most likely ideas).
When I write
haiku, I format them like haiku, and I frame them with hashtags so
everyone knows it’s a haiku. In a larger philosophical sense, art is
anything in a frame, and as an artist, you need to make a conscious
decision about your frame.
4) Know When to Let Go of the Plate.
Imagine that a cook takes forever to bring your food, then as they’re
about to drop the plate on your table they stick their finger in your
mashed potatoes and say, “Oops, sorry, need to add more salt. Be right
You would leave that restaurant and never come back.
you edit, your goal is to finish, then move on. As I tell my kids,
“Stop farting around.” Fix your writing, and send it to the table.
Chefs are never like, “Oh no, I’ll never bake a cookie like that one
Here’s your zen moment: you can only grab something new if you’ve let something else go. So let your old writing go. Then you can write something new.