Pots Boiling Over

More than any other comparison–since I’m on this comparison kick–writing is like cooking.

There isn’t one right way for everybody, and not all readers come to the table with the same palate. There’s hot dogs for beginning readers, and Moroccan bastilla for the experienced and discerning. Depending on my mood, I can go for either.

Writers have different ways of approaching the preparation of their words. Some are like bakers, outlining and following instructions, measuring carefully, weighing ingredients. Others are freestyle Iron Chefs, grabbing whatever is in the pantry and never making any dish the same way twice. Some stick to well-tread formulaic paths they were reared with, and others constantly seek a new spicy thrill.

Even the same writer uses different techniques, depending upon what the story requires. I do, anyway. I managed to finish my first short novel by the seat of my pants, and while I can’t make an announcement yet, it’s been accepted and I’m awaiting edits. Pretty exciting! But I’d have gotten here faster if I’d studied more recipes instead of throwing things in the pot and correcting the seasoning later.

Fast isn’t always better. You can’t make stock in a hurry. Some subjects need to stew and linger, or maybe ferment like kimchi, buried underground. I tend to feel out my short stories the same way I feel out when food is done, not by a timer or thermometer, but by how it smells and tastes. There are indeed kitchen disasters. But when the magic happens, it’s extra delicious.

Now that the short novel is done, another long project came up that I couldn’t say no to despite abject terror. It’s a work I’m invited to write, but have not yet written. There’s a recipe to follow, with room to improvise, and an editor tolerant of exotic ingredients. But here I am at the halfway point of the first draft, and I don’t know if what I’ve started will burn, or sour, or turn out just right.

I’m bringing all my techniques to the table. Today involved getting out the recipe books to structure and plan instead of pounding out words. My topic and main character needed to rest. You can’t knead dough and put it right in the oven. It has to rise, or else it bakes into a brick. You can’t slice a piece of meat the minute it comes off the grill, or you’ll lose all the juice. It needs to rest.

What’s been most fun during this torturous exercise in agreeing to write what has not yet been written and wondering oh god can I do it? has been the side dishes. I took a new look at an old piece and cleaned it up for an appropriate call for entries. I was stuck at an odd job for  a few days too distracting to work on anything big, but boring enough to compose a new flash. And it’s interesting how much each work influences and inter-plays with the others.

It’s great to have challenges and opportunities and keep all these pots boiling at once. Here’s hoping to wind up with a feast for kings, not slurry for hogs.

Published by: Joe

Joe Koch writes literary horror and surrealist trash. A Shirley Jackson Award finalist, Joe is the author of The Wingspan of Severed Hands, The Couvade, and Convulsive. Their short fiction appears in publications such as Vastarien, Southwest Review, Pseudopod, and Children of the New Flesh. He’s been a flash fiction judge for Cemetery Gates Media as well as co-editing the art horror anthology Stories of the Eye from Weirdpunk Books. Find Joe (he/they) online at horrorsong.blog and on Twitter @horrorsong.

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