To say I watch a lot of food shows is a gigantic understatement.
I grew up watching Emeril Lagasse, have watched every season of Top Chef since it premiered my senior year in High school, and even tried out for MasterChef during grad school.
But my ability to get sucked into a delicious meal being made isn’t the focus today.
In fact, this blog post has very little to do with cooking.
Over the last 10+ years of watching cooking shows, I’ve learned almost as much about writing, as I have about cooking. Today, I’m going to highlight three of those times.
WHEN FOOD NETWORK STAR TAUGHT ME SPECIFICITY
TV Show Premise: 12 cheftestants compete in various tests to prepare them for the unique challenges of being on a cooking television show on the Food Network.
In this particular challenge, the cheftestants had to taste a meal that judge Bobby Flay cooked, and describe the dish in front of a camera using descriptive words, and he used a buzzer every time the words were generic.
As Chef Flay put it, “Your vocabulary needs to be inventive. Think about it like being on the radio. You have to actually create the picture for somebody at home. Because they’re not going to be able to taste it.
“…During your description you may not use crutch words: Delicious, awesome, sexy, incredible, wonderful.
“If you notice, none of those words describe how anything tastes.”
In 60 seconds, trained chefs were getting buzzed at every few seconds, because they were using words that didn’t really describe the food.
Those words aren’t just culinary crutches, they’re writing (and speaking) crutches too! (And let’s be honest, a lot more words can be added to this list.)
We’ve all been guilty of saying “I want to make that sound sexy” or “it’s not as awesome as it could be.”
My challenge to you: Next time you write, whether it’s the language in your book, a journal entry, ANYWHERE, take notice to whether or not you’re using crutch words. If you are, replace those words with stronger, more detailed words.
Because you want to be clear to the people reading your text exactly what you mean. Writing is an art, and each and every word on the page should be the best one you could possibly choose.
Deciding to choose crutch words is like deciding to use canned vegetable when the fresh ones are available, you have the budget, and you KNOW they’ll taste better.
You have standards. Make sure eliminating crutch words is one of them!
WHEN CHOPPED TAUGHT ME TO TAKE MY TIME
TV Show Premise: In Chopped, 4 cheftestants must create a meal using 4 mystery ingredients in less than 30 minutes, and are critiqued by three judges.
30 Minutes isn’t a lot of time to create a meal from scratch, out of 4 main ingredients, and you may have never even heard of some of them.
So when 3 contestants finished with 3 minutes to spare in the appetizer round, it didn’t go unnoticed by the judges. Each of the contestants that finished early were reprimanded by the judges.
“Well it’s really disappointing to me that three of the competitors finished early and there were still major oversights on all of their dishes.”
Does this sound familiar: You give yourself an hour to write, you start to transform ideas into pages and pages of writing. You realize, “Nice! My goal was to write at least 4 pages in an hour, and I finished early! I’m good to go! ”And then you move about your day.
Does this also sound familiar: You return to that work later, and end up spending more time cleaning it up and trying to understand what you meant the first time you wrote it.
I’m all for shitty first drafts (in fact, I’m a pretty huge supporter of them) but the big thing to remember about having a bad first draft… is that it’s bad.
My challenge to you: The next time you finish a chunk of writing you’re proud of earlier than you thought you would, take time to really comb back through it.
I still believe that 24 hours after a first draft is the best time to make improvements.
But right in that moment, you’re already swinging for an idea to come across the right way. Try to make sure the swing is a hit, instead of a miss by checking out your vocabulary, and making sure you’re being as descriptive as possible, your characters sound genuine, or you
Because floundered time is for people who aren’t serious about writing. Even 20 minutes. Even 5.
Cheryl Strayed recently said, “There's a long history, of women especially, saying, 'Well, I just got lucky.' I didn't just get lucky. I worked my fucking ass off. And then I got lucky. And if I hadn't worked my ass off, I wouldn't have gotten lucky. You have to do the work. You always have to do the work.”
And you aren’t doing the work if you aren’t spending the full amount of time you could be.
Spend your time wisely.
WHEN IRON CHEF AMERICA TAUGHT ME TO RETHINK THE EDITORIAL RELATIONSHIP
TV Show Premise: A guest chef challenges an “Iron Chef,” and the two, with the help of their sous chefs, create a five course meal in 60 minutes, using an unveiled secret ingredient in every course.
For this lesson, I’m not using a particular episode of the television show in question. I’m talking about every episode.
Most cooking competitions give an unrealistic expectation of what being a chef is like.
They show one chef competing on his or her own to claim the title of being the “best” chef in that competition.
But what does every kitchen, no matter the size, contain?
A group of prep, line, and sous chefs.
It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting at your favorite Diner, Fast Casual eatery, or Michelen Star restaurant, there are a group of well trained, seasoned “assistants” in that kitchen, creating the food you’re about to eat.
Iron Chef America shows how integral that team is every time the episodes air.
The Iron Chef and guest chef rely heavily on their two chefs to help them prepare the crunchy, creamy, salty, sweet, and every-other-taste-and-texture meals they create for the judges.
This is the exact same relationship the editor shares with a writer.
When Stephen King publishes a book, many people read it thinking, “Wow, Stephen King created this whole book all on his own.”
But he didn’t.
He worked with an editor, and likely, an editorial assistant, to create the in-depth thrilling books that you see on shelves.
My challenge to you: Start to think about what stage you’d like to have an editor in your back pocket.
If you’ve never written a book before, and you aren’t familiar with the editing process, or you’re on your third book, but still having trouble finding what needs work in your draft, having an editor perform a manuscript evaluation for you is likely your best bet. This is when an editor reads your full draft and provides feedback for you on where and how you can improve your first draft.
If you’ve written books before, and feel the larger structural issues are good, or you worked with a book coach to finish your draft, then working with an editor on developmental editing would be your best next bet. The editor will read through your book and provide sentence revisions and ideas to help you revise the language and chapter focus, that will still sound like you, but will heighten the writing, and provide another option.
If you’re still in idea phase, and having trouble getting anything down, working with a book coach, or deciding on a ghost writer, might be what you need. And sometimes editors are also book coaches or ghostwriters, which will make it easier when it comes time to edit your book, because they’ll already be familiar with the writing, so you the editing process will likely be shorter.
Every (repeat: every) author needs an editor.
Editors who write books use editors. Figuring out what stage you’ll need one will make it easier to know who’s a good fit for you when the time comes.
If you'd like to chat to see where you're at and what might be a good fit you, schedule a consultation with me today, and we can figure out the best way to get your book from in your head to on the page, and ready to be published.
I'd love to hear from you if you struggle with any of these issues, or have any other writing struggles. (I bet I can pull another Food Network show into my suggestion! ;-) ) Comment below!