By: Marilyn L. Davis
“…I began to see the world more like a cook than a writer. There were boundless ingredients out there, combinations waiting to be discovered and simmered and served. There were truths and stories and characters and quirks that could clash badly, and some that could marry and birth sequels. I began to feel a lot more comfortable. It wasn’t all on me to create. It was on me to find. To catch. To arrange.” ― N.D. Wilson, Death by Living: Life Is Meant to Be Spent
There are 1,025,109.8 words
in the English language. Those are a writer’s ingredients. To communicate, we have a noun, a verb and a predicate. It is not surprising that some sentences seem basic; like seasoning with just salt and pepper. There are some writers that take this approach; simple words served up well.
Then there are others who throw in the kitchen sink, using all of the obscure words – albeit correctly, and give us heartburn. For me, that is Thomas Pynchon.
It’s telling that there is a site dedicated to How to Read a Pynchon Book
. For any Pynchon fans, I’ve read more than 200 pages of Gravity’s Rainbow, Mason & Dixon and Slow Learner
multiple times…I will not try again.
Choosing Our Ingredients
While we rely on language to convey our thoughts, feelings, and experiences, the underlying foundation for our writing is grammar. When we understand how our language works, how to construct a sentence, a paragraph, or a novel, we have control. We can use outlining or other forms of structuring. Then we can then use our creativity and imagination to craft satisfying pieces.
Salt and Pepper or Exotic Spices?
Unlike grammar, which applies to us all, voice is unique; it’s the writer’s personality. It is distinct from other voices; it is individual. It shows up in the different choices of words, personal reflections on the topics, and how the writer perceives their subject and their reader.
It’s a tone, a style, a way of stringing words together that uses language in exceptional ways. As Charles Peguy
writes in Basic Verities, Prose and Poetry
, “A word is not the same with one writer as it is with another. One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket.”
And just as some foods only need salt and pepper to enhance their flavor, simple writing can and does stand alone. Other writing needs more descriptive writing, like certain foods need garlic, parsley, or unexpected, exotic spices. But it’s more than just adding filler, it’s enhancing the words for a better reading experience.
Each type of writing is good on its own, and it may just be that some days you are into simple writing and others, your topic requires more complex language.
Words: How to Combine Them?
My daughter, Dannella Burnett
, graduated from the culinary arts school, Johnson and Wales. She was on the first student team competing at the London Hotelympia
. Her combination of chocolate pasta, berries and sweet cheese filling for a dessert lasagna were novel in 1987; a way of combining common ingredients in an uncommon way.
It is the same with writing. How we combine our words sets us apart. For nonfiction, we have to let the readers know that we are passionate about our topic, provide them with relevant information, and then add elements that make the article creatively ours. We have to be honest, authentic, and believe in our topics.
But, we also have to believe in ourselves.
gives us permission to be afraid to offer our writings. “Creativity eventually wins. Your ideas don’t go away, do they? When you give in to fear, you only grow more frustrated. Your ideas continue to bubble in your mind and heart, wanting to be let out.”
Each writer has to overcome their fear, much like a chef offering their latest creation:
• Is it too bland?
• Is it seasoned well?
• Is it over-flavored?
• Are there high notes and low notes to the piece?
• Would I serve this again?
So, regardless of whether it’s home cookin’ or haute cuisine, it’s yours, so don’t let it get cold, serve it, publish it, and savor it.
Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing