How to use Daily Writersâ€™ Fix
If photography is painting with light, then writing is painting with words. Write a long paragraph today–about anything–being as descriptive as possible.
Take your character on a boat ride. While you’re at it, feel the breeze on your skin, listen to the sounds of the engine and the water, and smell the briny air. Write exactly what your character experiences and the significance of each of those sensations.
Where does this staircase lead? What does your character hear as he climbs? Silence? A raucous party?
Today, take one of your favorite scents–it could be an herb or perhaps a perfume or your favorite food–and write about it not mentioning the way it smells, but through the lens of touch instead.
Practice dialogue today by taking a couple of characters and placing them at a table together for drinks or dinner and seeing what happens.
Just a few nights ago Sarah and I cooked a special dinner for our husbands to say thanks for all their help so that we could go away for a writers’ retreat. The results–saffron risotto with scallops–was pretty amazing, I have to say, and I only wish we had snapped up some better-quality photos to share with you here before it was all gone! Oh well, we’ll just have to make it again so that we can share it with you here at Writer’s Kitchen. In the meantime, here are some of our favorite Writer’s Kitchen entries to date:
Tea & Cookies for Your Writing Ritual
Last-Minute Holiday Appetizers
What We Eat When We’re Alone
Writers are often procrastinators–not always on a macro level, but certainly on a micro one. What I mean is this: When we sit down to write, we often stare at the blank screen, wondering where to begin. I would like to challenge you this week to revisit stalled projects for at least 15 minutes a day as part of your daily writing challenge. What you’re going to do is sit down and just write. Wait, you say, that’s a cheap piece of useless advice! I disagree.
I used this strategy recently when working on an article that I struggled to find focus for. I had already done my reporting and had many great facts and quotes–way too much to be able to use, in fact. I allowed myself to just start writing, challenging myself to write as much of a first draft as possible, starting with a lead, and moving on to the middle, trusting my “ear” to give the article preliminary organization and flow.
You’ll find when you do this that you’ll have gaps in your information, sure, but you’ll know exactly what facts to look for rather than being overwhelmed with an entire topic’s worth of facts. To keep the momentum going, just make note of the facts you want to collect and do your research afterward. Also, rather than going through your notes to find the quote that you’re thinking about, just make a note about which one you’re considering and keep writing. Read through your draft–what do you think about the way that you were able to bring order and focus just by trusting yourself toÂ just write?
You’re going to have to keep working on the article–a first draft is rarely a final draft. But I hope that you’ll find this practice helpful for those pieces that have you feeling stuck.
If you’re anything like me, you read books about writing and think to yourself while writing the exercises, that’s a good one–I should do it. But the problem is, we turn the page to read the next chapter and then forget about the exercise that promised to yield some fantastic prose.
Well, this is the week to change that. In place of our usual writing prompts, I want to encourage you to pull your writing books off the shelves this week and choose one exercise to complete each day. It doesn’t matter necessarily which ones you choose, just that you force yourself to take the leap from reading about writing to actually doing it.
While you’re doing it, leave a note here and let us know what writing books inspire you most! Some of our current favorites are Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and Dianne Jacob’s Will Write for Food.
As February draws to a close and spring nears, menus begin the transition from creamy, rich braises, casseroles, and stews to lighter fare celebrating the shift in seasonal food and the lessened need to eat for a sense of coziness and warmth. Winter greens mingle with spring lettuces, and root vegetables give way to asparagus.
The latter is one of my favorite vegetables, with its quick-cooking time and pretty green stalks making it easy enough for a rushed weeknight meal or elegant enough for company. Simply roasted with olive oil and salt, its toothsome texture and distinct earthy flavor shine. Steam it just until tender and serve with a brightly-flavored sauce, and you’ll take this springtime staple to the next level.
Asparagus with Tarragon Mustard Sauce
Adapted from Simply Classic: A New Collection of Recipes to Celebrate the Northwest, this recipe is perfect for your file of quick and easy recipes to pull out when you’re on deadline but still want something special to serve your family or guests. You can make the sauce while the asparagus steams, and the whole thing should come together in a matter of minutes.
1 1/2 pounds fresh asparagus
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
1 pinch of sugar
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Remove and discard the tough ends of the asparagus. Steam just until tender. While asparagus is steaming, prepare the sauce by combining all ingredients except the olive oil in a small bowl. Slowly pour in the olive oil, whisking constantly to emulsify. When ready to serve, place asparagus on a platter and pour the sauce on top.
How to use Daily Writersâ€™ Fix
Look up. Right now, from where you’re sitting. From where your character was in the last moment before you stopped your previous writing session. From where you imagine he will be when you begin today’s plotting.
Take your antagonist on a trip. What does he feel as he showers, using the hotel’s shampoo that smells like his childhood garden?
Train yourself to see the ordinary as momentous today. Look at this empty parking space and spend five minutes freewriting. It will undoubtedly feel like a stretch, but go for it and see what you come up with.
Your protagonist wipes his hand across the dashboard, watching as his hand erases the dust. An ordinary moment? Perhaps. But what if it weren’t?
Go to your refrigerator and pull out something you haven’t tasted in a while, such as a jar of pickled vegetables or a condiment. Describe the flavor in detail, so that someone who hasn’t eated it before will know exactly what it tastes like.
I’m trying to build a repertoire of simple, quick-cooking meals that I can rely on for when it seems there’s no time to cook. As a writer, I have to. There will always be opportunities to create elaborate, multi-step dishes with an ingredient list as long as the alphabet–it’s just part of life of a food writer. But when it comes to feeding my family on a day-to-day basis, sometimes quick, nutritious (and tasty) food is key. I’ve been diving into my stock of old and new family classics as I create a master list of tried-and-true dishes I can prepare even on the most demanding of evenings. A thousand words to cut? Jacques Pepin’s chickenÂ suprÃªmes in butter with lime juice and herbs will do the trick. Recipe development flooding my kitchen with desserts? Herb-roasted vegetables come together in a snap to balance out all the sugar. And lest I forget, simple is often best–though it’s one of the hardest things for me to remember. In that case, going to the store to pick up a protein and a vegetable with no recipe in mind (gasp!) and forcing myself to cook by instinct should probably happen more often.
What are your go-to meals when you’re tight on time?
Image from Outside Oslo.
Each day this week, go outside. Even if just for a minute or two. Put on a coat–or don’t!–and feel the cold air wrap around you, feel the chill prick your cheeks, and feel fully alive. After your moment, minute, or long walk outside, head in and write without wasting a moment. Repeat each day.
As writers, we can never get too much encouragement and inspiration. Even the most seasoned writers still have a brain and imagination that need to be continually stimulated in order to produce good work. Such assistance need not take much time or money, however. That’s what I love about the 21 Moments Writing Challenge with Christina Katz. I recently signed up to participate, and am thoroughly enjoying the process so far.
Here what it involves, in a nutshell:
Over the course of one month, participants write 21 “moments,” which are brief but well-written scenes, vignettes, or whatever else they choose to write. Each day for three weeks, starting on the first of the month, Christina–an author and writing instructor–sends an e-mail with a sample text, and then the writer gets to work. The writer works on his or her own schedule, since there’s an entire month to complete the 21 moments. At the end, the writer will polish one of the moments and send it to Christina to review.
What’s so wonderful about this process is that the goal is to write for oneself, not for publication. Christina encourages writers to enjoy what they do and to just focus on writing the best they can. I’m using this challenge as a way to build up some content for my book, and I can already imagine taking part in the challenge again and again. It’s a little like NaNoWriMo, in that there’s a time-based challenge to it, but for this rather than NaNoWriMo, the focus is on quality over quantity.
If you’re interested in learning more or signing up for the “class,” head over to Christina Katz’s website.