I’ve gotten a bit of a reputation with dinner guests at my house. If they like something I serve, they’ll ask for a recipe. My answer is the same about 97 percent of the time: “Well, there’s not really a recipe, exactly….”
When I cook, I never follow instructions. I meld and blend, pulling a technique from one recipe and ingredient list from another, plus a half a handful of something else I want to use up before it goes bad, and a last-minute substitution of something I actually have for something I thought I had, but didn’t. I made a Chinese cumin lamb stir-fry for dinner tonight, except I used beef instead of lamb, swapped the crispy coating for a marinade of soy sauce and sesame oil and ginger, cut the cumin in half, added shiitake mushrooms, deglazed the pan partway through with some rice wine vinegar, and half-decided/half-forgot to put in the hot dried peppers. Was it still delicious? Yes. Was it what the recipe writers at the New York Times had in mind? Not even remotely.
I write the same way. I have tried many times to use an outline. My outlines seem logical and perfectly well thought-out, and I use them to start writing, but the only variation is whether I jump ship midway through the first draft or whether I have to write the whole thing to see how wrong it is. I add and subtract characters. I recognize the beginnings of subplots and themes I didn’t actually put in on purpose, and rewrite to make them stronger. No matter how much thinking and planning I do beforehand, I change my plans while I’m putting the words down on the page for real. Writing helps me discover my own intent. [Read more…]