Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Half-baked metaphors

Today I made dinner. It was a rather last-minute thing. I received the recipe by e-mail and was told to get to it. Okay. Go downstairs, raise my eyebrows at the printout. Eight ingredients? Minced garlic? Dry sherry? Well, aren't we fancy tonight? So okay, in the kitchen I start pulling out the ingredients. Ground beef, yeah. We're missing egg noodles, so we're going with rotini and penne instead, combining two partial boxes. The sherry's there, and so's the Worcestershire sauce, but we only have one can of tomato soup, so I'll have to sub in some diced tomatoes in too large a can size. There's sliced cheddar in the fridge, but no Parmesan, so let's go with mozzarella instead. I hate dishes like this anyway (I've got a lovely rant about Italian food I'll do if anyone ever gives me an opening in conversation), so what do I care if we've got the wrong cheese?

Well, I get started. Boil some water for noodles and just guesstimate the right amount, pour 'em in to cook. Start browning the meat, and chop some garlic while that's happening. Life pro tip, gotta peel garlic a bit before you get to the good stuff, and also, there are several cloves for each bulb. So don't just throw a whole thing under the chopper. Where was I going with this? Ah, yes. I don't remember about draining the meat until after I'd added the tomato sauce (because you'd think they would put something that important in the instructions), the noodles don't seem to be softening at all, the whole mess is too big for the pan, and by the time I get this hot mess (both literally and figuratively) in the oven, I am wiped out and prickling with annoyance.

You know what, though? It turned out swell. Everyone raved about my casserole. Even I didn't think it was terrible. It occurred to me later that this whole experience is an imperfect metaphor for writing. For your rough draft you've got your recipe, your outline of what you expect the story to be about. Your ingredients are all the characters, settings, plot devices, and the like, which you may have to swap out or change at a moment's notice for the betterment of the story. You slop the whole thing together, wincing at every mistake or every clunky paragraph, but the important thing is getting it in the over, finalizing that draft. And I guess you could compare the oven to editing, but that's a bit more of a stretch. Still, it can take something as simple and unexpected as a come-from-behind success at making dinner to drive home the point that fussing over perfection every step of the way while writing is counter-productive. So I'm not going to get in my own way. When I get back to cooking up this short story in a bit, I'm going to press forward, write what excites me, and shove that tasty first draft in the oven.

... Now I've made myself hungry again.

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