On Cookbooks and Writing Books

Back in the days when I was the cook in the family, I’d bury my nose in a cookbook all day. By 6 PM I’d realize I hadn’t started dinner, so we’d order out.

Funny part was, I have never followed a recipe to make dinner; I just enjoy reading cookbooks. I’m more of a spontaneous, intuitive cook. The exception would be baking, which I’ve always heard is an exact science. But I’m beginning to doubt that. My grandmother’s handful surely couldn’t be the same amount as your grandmother’s handful, right?

In a crazed technical writer’s attempt to capture the recipes of my elders, I once suggested transferring those handfuls into measuring cups so I could write up an accurate recipe. The withering glance I received taught me it’s not about the amounts of ingredients, it’s about “feeling it.” And to feel it, you’ve got to get your hands in the mix.

What is it about cookbooks that make them as addictive as novels to me? Appetizer as Prologue? Butternut Squash Soup leading up to Plot Point One? Braised Short Ribs to get you over the hump in Act Two? A dessert of Casquitos de Guayaba con Queso Blanco as Climax? After-dinner drink as Epilogue?

I used to sit around reading writing books all day, too. By 6 PM, I’d realize that not only was dinner not ready, but I hadn’t put a word to paper.

I quickly learned I had to ban the purchase of writing books until I started putting some of their advice into practice. (My husband quickly learned that if he wanted to eat, he’d have to learn how to cook.)

Recently, I’ve been better about writing regularly, so I treated myself to a new one: Write Away by Elizabeth George. I’m enjoying it and I’ve already used a few tips.

Here are some of my other faves:

  • The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray (an oldie but a goodie – make sure it’s the original version)
  • How to Write a Damn Good Novel II by James N. Frey
  • The First Five Page by Noah Lukeman (he’s a literary agent in NYC who tells you why you get rejected within the first 5 pages)
  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King
  • Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
  • Gotham Writers’ Workshop Writing Fiction
  • Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence Block
  • Stein on Writing by Sol Stein
  • How to Grow a Novel by Sol Stein

It won’t be long before I’ll need another fix. So if you have any favorites, please send some recommendations.

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