Creativity Writing
Charlotte Rains Dixon  

The Benefits of Preparation

I made Panna Cotta* yesterday.  And potatoes for Easter breakfast.  But it was the Panna Cotta that taught PannaCotta me something about writing.

It is not a complicated recipe, and doesn't have a lot of ingredients, basically milk, cream, sugar and honey (it is not particularly good for you). Maybe for that precise reason, yesterday I decided to make like a Food Network star and have all the ingredients measured and prepared ahead of time.

And this turned out to be a revelation, making the cooking of the pudding go quickly and easily.  Which is not usually the case when I cook.

And that is because my blasted right-brain gets in the way.

Now don't get me wrong, I love my right-brain tendencies.  They are the source of my creativity, which I cherish.  But when it comes to logic and details, they can also get in the way.  When I cook, I'm usually all over the place–measuring sugar here, washing the dessert cups there, making space in the refrigerator as a last-minute after-thought.

Oh, and did I mention I'm lousy at following directions?  So sometimes I skip a step or skim the recipe and forget something crucial.  Not only that, my measuring skills are horrible and I usually end up estimating rather than measuring exactly.

And now I realize it is for all these reasons that I hate cooking.  Because yesterday, for some unknown reason, I actually followed the directions.  I carefully measured everything ahead of time, and then I simply followed the recipe step by step.

Um, revelation of gargantuan proportions.  I know.  Duh.  But work with me here, I'm the ultimate right-brain creative type.  And I think I've always thought that I should just sort of know how to cook things without following directions.

As I measured and stirred heavy cream yesterday, I thought about writing.  My next newsletter article (sign up to the right if you haven't already) is going to be about the steps it takes to write a book.  And guess what? Only one of them actually concerns writing.  The rest are all about the preparation.  Because I'm a huge believer in preparation when it comes to writing.  If you have some idea of the road ahead, you'll make much quicker progress.  Not knowing where you are going is the fastest route to writer's block.

Now excuse me, I've got to go put the Marinara sauce for tonight's pasta on.

*I actually used the recipe from Giada's first cookbook, but this particular link tells about the dessert and presents a good recipe, since Giada isn't giving up hers online.

Since I'm starting to like to cook, feel free to comment with ideas for favorite recipes.  Or if you want to stay on point, tell me how you prepare for writing projects. 

0 thoughts on “The Benefits of Preparation

  1. Christi

    I can completely identify with this, both with cooking and with writing.

    I find when I plan ahead (like, make sure I have all the ingredients so I’m not making a mad dash to a neighbor’s house pleading for an egg and some sugar)that is when I achieve the greatest amount of reward–a few pages that actually go somewhere, cookies that are good because I didn’t substitute flavored, instant oatmeal for real oatmeal…yes, I’ve done that.

    Great post!
    Christi Corbett

  2. Roy Burkhead

    My television time is limited, but I am able to squeeze in 24 and Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. When I hang out with Leslie before the p.m. writing time starts, Food Network is pretty much what we watch. I cook constantly for the kids on the weekends, and they eat very…little…of…it. Maybe if I did one of those fancy Giada’s dishes, I’d have better luck. 🙂

  3. Hi Charlotte, yes, preparation. I’m not consistent in this department. I prepare what I pack in my luggage or what toys I stuff in my bag when I leave the house with my son. In general, I don’t prepare much as I love jumping in and seeing what happens. I do this in the kitchen, for sure. I substitute/add/subtract ingredients all the time and am usually pretty happy with the end result.
    But I agree that some things need careful planning. I’ve signed up for your newsletter (twice since the first e-mail address didn’t seem to work).
    As for easy recipes, I adore making chocolate mousse. It’s so easy, quick and yummy.

  4. Elizabeth

    When I cook, I’m usually pretty well prepared, though if you saw my disorganized mess of a house you wouldn’t believe me. I do like to cook, though I get lazy. Hm. (I do like to write, though I get lazy.) I’m terrible at knowing where I’m going in my fiction, though in poetry, I often have the poem fully drafted in my head before I even start writing. But fiction? It always tugs me in directions I haven’t planned, so I seem to have stopped planning. Unfortunately, on at least one project, that means I’ve stopped writing or only write on it sporadically.

    So, I’m going to think about this cooking/writing business and see why I can bake multi-step Greek cookies without flinching and make a killer pasta sauce without blinking (and have the prep dishes all washed before the timer on the pasta beeps) but I can’t seem to end this one novel with which I am consumed.

    Thank you for this.

  5. Patty - Why Not Start Now?

    Great story, Charlotte. I just finished reading “My Life in France” by Julia Child, and it was ALL about preparation with her. She was very precise. That was her gift. And as much as I am like you, with my intuitive right brain wanting not to be tied down, as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to see there is indeed an art to organization and preparedness. I guess I’m still working on finding that delicate balance between my two brain hemispheres. Now that I’ve read your post, though, and Julia’s book, I so want to spend a week in the kitchen cooking up a storm.

  6. Charlotte Dixon

    Christi, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve realized halfway through a recipe that I don’t have a needed ingredient, mostly because I’ve not read the whole recipe through. Sigh.

    Roy, Love the Food Network, I watched it this weekend while going through all my tax receipts. And if I can cook Giada’s recipes, anybody can, trust me.

    Belinda, Thanks for signing up for the newsletter, hope the second time worked. And I understand totally about a lack of consistency, that’s the story of my life.

    Elizabeth, I get that you don’t want to outline or plan for writing a novel. I always fear that I’m going to drum the life out of it by doing so. But I find the opposite happens–a loose outline (and I’m talking very loose here) gives me a structure on which to hang my creativity and still allows all kinds of wonderful things to happen. So now I really feel better if I do at least some preparation.

  7. Charlotte Dixon

    Patty, I adored that book, wasn’t it great? So charming and so much better than I thought it was going to be. By the way, I cooked marinara sauce tonight and actually measured and followed the instructions, worked out great. Hope you enjoy cooking up a storm.

  8. b. n. landry

    I used to write hack articles, too. They paid me by the word. It was terrible, though; I’d rather pull espresso.

  9. Charlotte Dixon

    B.N., I’ve done a bit of that hack writing myself. It is awful at the time, but I always tell people you can parlay it into higher paying jobs pretty quickly. Wouldn’t want to go back there, however!

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