One of my secret ways to get inspired whenever I am in a creative rut is to crack open a cook book. It doesn’t really matter what cook book I crack open, but what does matter is not just finding another recipe to follow.
For instance, the other day, I was stuck trying to write some material for my next book. Normally, I put it on the back burner and write about something else. That way, I let my subconscious mind work at it for me. Then, when I come back to it, my mind is full of interesting ideas that I can then write about. Except this time, it wasn’t working. I was stuck for whatever reason. I decided then to crack open a cook book (in this case, Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat). Her book isn’t just about the recipes, but the science and the methods behind good cooking, which focus on you guessed it, salt, fat, acid and heat.
In the process of coming up with material to write, I landed on some interesting techniques that I never would have thought about and some issues that I encountered with my cooking, that I could not seem to avoid. And I realized, after reading through the cook book, that there were very interesting parallels between cooking, which is both an art and science, and creativity (which is also both an art and a science). To make things a little easier, I’ll draw parallels in cooking and in writing.
In cooking, you can substitute ingredients, in writing, you can substitute subjects
I’ve gone to numerous recipes where I didn’t have specific ingredients. And it is not that cost efficient to go to the supermarket to buy a box of vanilla extract, when you are going to only use it this one time for the cake that you want to bake. So instead of vanilla extract, maybe you can use maple syrup or molasses. You can substitute ingredients. Similarly, I like writing about different subjects, though with the same specific focus in mind. I mostly focus on self improvement and personal growth, and I like to draw life lessons and takeaways from the things that I do, even if they are not directly related (examples include test taking or floating).
How can you ‘substitute’ the content of your creative outlet while still maintaining the same overall focus or theme?
In cooking, the output completely changes if you use a different technique (cutting, cooking, etc.), in writing, the output can completely change if you use a different medium
Boil a chicken. Take that same raw chicken and instead, pan fry it. Then, take that same raw chicken and grill it. All three will have different textures, flavours and colour. But you started with the same raw materials. Or if you cut up the chicken and pan fry it. Or if you leave it whole and pan fry it. Or if you cut it into big chunks and then deep fry it. Again, same raw material, but different ways of cutting and cooking the chicken led to different results.
What’s the parallel with writing? I have been experimenting a lot with infographics – posting one infographic every week on LinkedIn. It’s a different form of writing, one that succinctly provides takeaways and visuals into something that can be read and reviewed in only a few minutes, versus long form writing where you have to sit down to read it. Another way of writing? Drawing and creating comics to share your message. Again, the raw material is the same in each case, but how you present it (the medium) creates a different output.
What are different ways you can change your medium while still leveraging your skills and expertise? If you vlog every day, can you create a comic instead with photos from your day?
In cooking, you can cook something over low heat for a long time, or high heat for a short time. In writing, you can create short posts that quickly hit readers. Or you can create long form posts that really go into detail.
One of my friends, Indian, once remarked that Indian cooking and Chinese cooking are on the opposite ends of the spectrum. Indian cooking focuses on cooking meat and other dishes for a long time on low heat. Chinese cooking focuses on cooking meat and other dishes for a short time on high heat. Again, the same raw ingredients, but with different cooking methods means different results.
As a writer (or any creative work that you do), you can shorten or lengthen the amount of time needed to engage with your art. I can write short posts that are a few hundred words or less that cover one idea. I can write long posts that cover multiple ideas and goes into explicit detail. I can do a short video log. I can do long video logs. Although people’s attention spans are getting shorter due to how they engage with content these days (notifications, pings, on-demand entertainment, etc.), there is still value in long form content.
How can you change the time needed for fans to engage with your content? Can you experiment with both short and long form content?
In cooking, if you get the fundamentals right, you can start to experiment. In writing, start with the fundamentals and then break the rules
When you cook, whatever you make, it has to be edible in the end. You can go wild with experimentation, breaking the rules, and cook whatever you want, but in the end, if you cannot eat it, it’s hard to really say that you succeeded.
Writing is the same way, you need to get the fundamentals right. Sure you can experiment with spelling, grammar, punctuation, but you don’t want to lose people before they have a chance to notice you. I know for me, I would be turned off by frequent spelling and grammatical mistakes of the articles that I read, even if they are about interesting, mind-blowing ideas.
Start with the basics, then break the rules.
Cooking (and writing) is about experimentation
I have experimented a lot in cooking. The great thing about cooking is that when you are experimenting, you know immediately whether the experiment was successful or not, and you receive immediate feedback on what to change or not change in future iterations. So what can you change?
You can shake up the ingredients and substitute things that you may not have or may not want to use. You can make use of different cooking instruments to change how you cook. You can change the length of time that you cook. Most important of all, you have to be patient when experimenting. You might not get it right the first time, but you will eventually find something interesting. Maybe even palatable.