Some people dive into a book the same way they would a juicy steak, and find just as much sustenance. Great chefs are dependent upon fine diners just as great authors rely upon refined readers. But no one wakes up one day and thinks that since he likes eating that he would make a good chef at that point. It takes years of training and hard work to become a master chef. But any old dingus can write a book, right? Wrong! Without training, you may be a line chef in some greasy spoon or you might write some mindless pop-lit drivel. People may eat it up, too, but you’ll never be any good, much less great.
Some people confuse popularity and acceptance with ability. The best has not always been popular (that does not mean that anything popular is not well done). The Great Gatsby did not sell well until after the Second World War, which was after Fitzgerald died. Vincent Van Gogh did not earn enough from the sale of his art to pay for all of the paint that he ate. And while McDonalds may have served billions, Ruth’s Chris will still be serving the best food in town on any night.
A Keen Palate
Before you can even begin culinary school, you have to had eaten a lot. And just as the chef needs to be well-fed, the author must be well-read. A chef needs a refined palate so they will know the flavors of food and how they will taste in combinations. Maybe you’ve seen the bit on TV where chefs are blindfolded, fed something, and then have to identify it. It’s funny how much they get wrong.
People want to be good writers, but they’ve never read anything, or at least they’ve never read anything good. The Classics are the Classics for a reason. They are the best that the literary world has to offer. As Mozart was above Salieri, anything by Hemingway, Fitzgerald, or Joyce will always be better than anything written today considered popular literature. You will never write better than the level you read, and if all you eat in cotton candy, you’ll end up as a terrible chef.
There are cooking techniques student learn in culinary school. I didn’t know that for a long time. I thought they learned recipes. There may be a few they learn near the end, but for the most part they are developing the necessary skills to carry out the instructions of any given recipe. And once they graduate, they should be advanced enough to put together their own recipes.
When any serious author takes the time to learn how to write, they are developing the skills that are necessary for a great story. They train in plot and character development. They learn how to write dialogue and build worlds. Most of all, they work on finding their voice. That is the most difficult part of all to any Creative Writing.
I have run across people who call themselves authors, even though they have no training. Their mommy told them they write the best stories, and that’s enough validation for them that they can start that novel at 16 or 21 or maybe 35, but it all reads like it was put together by an 8-year-old. And as beneficial as a subscription to Writer’s Digest may be, it’s articles can never substitute for time spent in classes under professors. The finest culinary school in the world is the Cordon Bleu in Paris. Its name means Blue Ribbon. The best validation does not come from mommy, but from professionals. Have the courage to learn from them.
Chefs are known by their knife skills. They cut everything the same size so it cooks evenly. Writers are also known for our knife skills, but these knives are the cutlery used in editing a piece. The untrained writer falls in love with his work and does not have the knowledge or the heart to take anything out. Nothing is beyond editing.
Any given writing project is very personal to the writer, but the most advanced know how to distant themselves from the manuscript and stare at it coldly and let go anything that doesn’t work. Editing is not just fixing the commas and misspellings. It is fixing the story. We flush out the flat scenes and cut out is filler. We fill in the plot holes and tighten to story arc. Writing is rewriting.
Anything ever doing at all is worth doing well. In fact, if you’re not going to try your hardest and do your best, why do anything at all? This goes for the short story from the hobby writer to the professional author and everyone in between. If you are a Creative Writer, you don’t have to be the literary equivalent of Wolfgang Puck, but don’t settle for burger flipper, either.
It still takes 10,000 hours to master any discipline. If you are going to be a serious writer, put in the time to learn, and then put in the time to exercise what you have learned. If you are going to be a serious author, you need to take your preparation and execution seriously. If you do, folks will read your stuff and ask for seconds.