Monday, April 15, 2013

Secret 2

2. Keep writing and you will get better and better.

Everyone enjoys the hope that their labors will have a purpose, that practice makes perfect and that, generally speaking, we improve. I particularly dislike wasted effort. If I ruin a perfectly nice sauté of caramelized onions, red peppers and brussels sprouts by tipping in too much salt I am quite capable of spending six agonizing hours in the kitchen throwing in lemons and whole cauliflowers, arugula, olives, turning it into a soup, add potatoes, curry, coconut milk, emptying the larder in the process, transfer to a succession of larger pots, try adding 6 cups of brown basmati rice, rush out to the store while it simmers to get more ginger, some honey and turmeric, and one dozen quart jars to freeze it all in so that I can carefully thaw them out in seven months and then dump it all into the compost bin.

Did this make me a better cook? Absolutely! For months I will be more cautious with salt. I have also learned that gradually adding all the food I own into a large pot with a predetermined amount of salt until it reaches an appropriate salt to food ratio is not a sound culinary endeavor. And so it is with writing. Just because you drift off into some vaguely analogical tangent about cooking a ruined meal doesn’t mean you have to follow that through to the bitter end and come up with some dodgy grand lesson or conclusion from it. And I am now almost certainly the better writer for it.

So clearly it plays out in the world around us. Great writers like Harper Lee encounter so much in a life of writing, mistakes and successes, that though each individual lesson may be small, their wisdom and craft accumulates around them like mighty oaks soaring gradually out of a ragged meadow of damp weeds. To kill a Mockingbird  has certainly moved many, me included, but it will always be the endless graceful charm and profoundly rooted craft of her later work that guides and inspires true writers.

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