Cookin’ the Books: Sizzling Recipes to Spice Up Your Writing
Updated: Mar 15, 2019
There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat. That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say “wow,” and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.
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Ingredient #1: Writing as culinary art.
Let the writing bake. Piquant writing requires maturation, the dormant yet productive alchemy akin to baking a cake: After combining ingredients – eggs, flour, sugar, butter, and assorted flavorings – you pour the mixture into a pan and place it in the oven. Do you sit with nose pressed to the oven door, watching the cake bake? Do you wonder every five minutes, “Is that cake ready?” Of course you don’t. You move onto next steps: prepare frosting, assemble decorations, wash bowls and utensils and wipe down the kitchen counter. When baking a cake you let the oven do what it does while you do what you need to.
It is precisely the same with writing. “Bake time” – objectivity and maturation – allows the subconscious to take over, to do its work of melding disparate ingredients into cohesion while you get on with the business of living. Also, baking maximizes your ability to refine each version of your ideas without taxing the limits of the brain’s conscious resources.
Rather than attempt to whip every sentence into poetry when first you write it, let space and time work for you. Baking provides impartiality that immediately reveals what each draft of your writing needs.
Simmer ideas. Like homemade soups and stews, ideas must simmer to enhance body and flavor. Time enriches character not revealed in those first, early tastes.
Steep in story. Regularly immerse in storytelling arts: read novels, watch movies, listen keenly to song lyrics, attend stage plays and live stand-up comedy. For favorites, research idea origin, development and production.
Pepper the subconscious. To our conscious mind, the language of the subconscious has no discernable structure:
Yet it is in the subconscious that the material of creation accumulates: the coalescence of random, disparate snippets that bubble into awareness as new ideas and fresh projects. We enhance that alchemy when we pepper our subconscious (cultivate inspiration):
Gravitate toward experiences that light us up.
Create openings for what wishes to emerge.
Increase our comfort with creative chaos.
Let go of expectation, and instead, respond to the moment.
Sit with uncertainty.
Embrace the unfamiliar.
Ingredient #2: Wordplay.
Ingredient #3: Food recipe metaphor as language arts medium.
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When I combined these 3 ingredients – writing as culinary art, wordplay and food recipe metaphor – “cookbook” popped into my head. Off to my laptop kitchen I went to experiment. There I created and tested these 20 writing recipes:
1. Pineapple Grapple Coladas 2. Interview with a Vampire Fajitas 3. 5-Batch Boozy Beignets 4. Emineggs Benedict 5. “LSD” Linguine 6. Random Thought Ratatouille 7. Dada Lemon Pie 8. NaNoWriMo Pudding 9. Winehouse and Wasabi Ragout 10. Magnetic Poetry Meatloaf 11. Playlist Paella 12. Message Board Merengue 13. Tidy Up Tostadas 14. Red Velvet Vallejo 15. Lynda Barry Cherry Turnovers 16. Sense and Sensibility Sauce 17. Overheard Over Easy 18. Curiosity Crullers 19. Purse Prompt Pralines 20. Dream-Filled Doughnuts
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A Cookin’ the Books Recipe:
1 playlist of 22 songs
1. Sift through your music library. Select an existing mood-boosting playlist or whip up a new one. Include 22 songs.
2. List song titles vertically on the left margin of your paper or digital page:
Don’t Rain On My Parade
Man of La Mancha
New Kids in Town
Save The Last Dance for Me
Keep the Customer Satisfied
I Could Have Danced All Night
Old Time Rock and Roll
A Piece of Sky
Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot
Bridge Over Troubled Waters
New York Afternoon
Juke Box Fury
Get Happy/Happy Days
Live Like You Were Dying
The Other Side
The Healing Game
Victory is Mine
Soldier in the Army
Walk in Jerusalem
3. Arrange song titles into a single paragraph; no punctuation. Titles need not be in the same order as the list form:
Don’t Rain On My Parade A Piece of Sky Cabaret Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot Bridge Over Troubled Waters New York Afternoon Juke Box Fury Get Happy/Happy Days Live Like You Were Dying The Other Side The Healing Game Victory is Mine Soldier in the Army of the Lord Walk in Jerusalem Main of La Mancha Nicest Kids in Town Happying Save The Last Dance for Me Keep the Customer Satisfied Hollywood Nights I Could Have Danced All Night Old Time Rock and Roll
4. Build punctuated sentences one at a time by combining the song titles as your intuition guides. You don’t have to retain the word order of the original title. View each word as an individual ingredient in this newly forming dish. Sprinkle new words throughout the song titles to blend sentences:
I Could Have Danced All Night to Old Time Rock and Roll. It’s my Healing Game, my Piece of Sky, a Cabaret where everyone Saves The Last Dance for Me. I call that Happying, keeping the Customer Satisfied. On the Other Side of lonely Hollywood Nights there’s a victory, a call to Walk in Jerusalem with the Army of the Lord. Soldiers, Men of La Mancha, the ones who told me, “Live Like You Were Dying.” Your Pilot is like a Bridge Over Troubled Waters, a New York Afternoon. These are Happy Days. So, don’t Rain On My Parade. Get Happy! Release that Juke Box Fury. Let Your Soul Be. Sincerely, The Nicest Kids in Town.
5. Arrange these new, short sentences down the left side of the page as you would a poem. Title your poem by allowing the words you’ve just played with to suggest one:
I Call that Happying by Gina Greenlee
I Could Have Danced All Night to
Old Time Rock and Roll.
It’s my Healing Game, my Piece of Sky,
a Cabaret where everyone
Saves The Last Dance for Me.
I call that Happying,
keeping the Customer Satisfied.
On the Other Side of
lonely Hollywood Nights
there’s a victory,
a call to Walk in Jerusalem
with the Army of the Lord.
Soldiers, Men of La Mancha,
the ones who told me,
“Live Like You Were Dying.”
Your Pilot is a Bridge Over Troubled Waters,
a New York Afternoon. Happy Days.
So, Don’t Rain On My Parade.
Get Happy. Release that Juke Box Fury.
Let Your Soul Be.
The Nicest Kids in Town.
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This quick and easy recipe helps you write versus agonizing about writing. If the combined prep and cook time take you longer than 45 minutes then you’ve overcooked your Playlist Paella. Focus on the ingredients – the words of each title – and they will organically assemble into surprisingly yummy narratives. Do this instead of hovering over the pot ruminating about whether or not “it’s good.”
Set the kitchen timer. Chop your cook time in half. No mincing, grinding or grating. Keep it fresh, stripped to the bone and smokin’ hot!
Cook 5 more times with different playlists.
Combine mixtures to create a longer narrative.
Meld favorite lines from each mixture to craft unusual flavors.
Spice existing writing projects with song title combinations.
Juice song titles with provocative opening lines:
Keeping the customer satisfied should have been Shelby Lindquist’s first priority. Instead, Shelby pretended to be looking for in-stock Mellow Mauve tiles for the woman with the scruffy gray hair and peach lipstick who sat in the service area. With a close-mouthed smile, Shelby glanced up from his smart phone then tweeted from #yoloSL.
Get happy. That’s what Shelby Linstrom told himself after rolling off the bottled redhead from last night’s last call. It didn’t work. Not even sex could distract him from tomorrow’s sales meeting.
For many, a Friday New York Afternoon meant Ubering to bars and restaurants to blow off steam at week’s end. For Shelby Lindcroft, it meant murder.
The Nicest Kids in Town, read the signature on the note to 10-year-old Shelby Landstrom. Its author had taped it inside Shelby’s locker. Great. His first day at school in a new town and the bullying had already begun.
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