WARNING: Profanity. (It involves Gordon Ramsay. What did you fucking expect?)
To a certain extent, art is art is art. Still, I was surprised how applicable some of the lessons Gordon Ramsay taught his restauranteurs were to the art of writing.
Here’s the deal: I’ve avoided Kitchen Nightmares and that kind of reality show because I heard there’s a lot of yelling, and humiliation just isn’t my jam. But I was feeling depressed, spending entirely too much time on YouTube, and the only interesting thing in my recommended feed was a clip from such a show. I’d seen Gordon Ramsay on things like Jimmy Fallon, so I decided three minutes of my time was not too big of a loss.
Dear Readers, three minutes turned into hours and hours of binge-watching over the last couple of weeks. Thanks to the miracle of YouTube, I’ve seen British Kitchen Nightmares, American Kitchen Nightmares, clips and full episodes, and an assorted chocolate box of Gordon Ramsay all over the modern media. And I regret nothing.
Yes, there’s yelling and sometimes humiliation. But there’s also a combination of mystery (identifying the problems of the restaurant of the week), good hard work ethic as people cooperate to solve their problems, and the shows nearly always end on a note of hope and redemption. Happy diners, and happy chefs, waiters and owners who are amazed at what Gordon hath wrought.
So, over the next few weeks, I’m going to be talking about what I learned from the culinary arts that I can apply to my own creative process.
This week, I’ll start by talking about supplies. If you scroll down the comments of almost any Gordon Ramsay YouTube clip, you will probably see some joker trotting out a statement like, “These ice cubes are FROZEN!!!! You fucking donkey!”
It’s a joke that kind of misses the point. Fresh ice cubes are great, but if you’ve ever had old ice cubes from a freezer packed with old fish, meat and bread, you’d know what the real joke is. You can’t grab some supplies (or even make them up fresh), stick them in the deep freeze of your subconscious, and expect to have that same fresh, lovely quality as new writing. It’s not true in every case, but I find that for me, a lot of my writing ideas feel stale and old after about a year or two. I can revive an idea, I think, but a lot of times, it means starting from scratch with whole new words. I find it very hard to pick up something from three years ago and work with the old words on the page.
Editing, I think, is a different process. But writing? I’ve got to work fast when I’ve got the ideas, and get them down as quickly as I can. Otherwise, they get that freezer burn taste to them.
The other big joke in the comment sections is, “It’s fucking RAAAAWWWW!” Some things are meant to be raw. Some things are meant to be fully baked. But it’s very, very rare that we like half-baked things. A story is like that. It’s meant to be sent out when it’s finished. Half of the art is knowing when it’s done – when to send it out raw, and when to put it in the editing oven for another 10 minutes or so.
Another thing I noticed on the program is that over and over, failing restaurants fail to get their basics together. Their supplies are not fresh. Sometimes they don’t even go shopping for groceries until two hours before service. Sometimes they cheap out on education, and hire inexperienced chefs to run their kitchens, and expect high-level professional work.
Fortunately, writing doesn’t cost as much as restauranting. If you’ve got a pencil and lots of paper, you might be good to go (although you’ll have to pay eventually to get it in a digital format). You don’t need a fancy new computer and intricate software (unless, maybe, you get motivated when you have financial guilt). Of course, it’s nice if you have what you want and can afford it. But it’s not necessary. It’s a treat, and maybe a well-deserved one.
Writing does take time, though. Even more than restauranting. In most cases, you can’t expect to churn out a novel in three weeks. If you can, I suspect that story idea has been festering in your soul for several years, and the extraction will be painful yet cathartic. At any rate, I need to clear my schedule for writing. I suspect that if I sat down for an hour every day and wrote, I’d come up with something pretty good at least once a week. There are a lot of times where I feel fuzzy-brained and nasty, and then something will come along (usually one of Elizabeth’s writing exercises), and I’ll suddenly find myself with a story. What would happen if I tried for that every day? Yeah, sure, six wasted days, probably – but if on the seventh, there was light, I’d cry “Hallelujah”.
Time may lie wanking on the floor, but at least it gets an orgasm out of the deal. I’ve got to remember that when I think I’m faffing about.
Lastly, there’s education. There are two ways of getting an education: formal training and the school of hard knocks. I think both are really important, but if I could only choose one, I’d have to say the school of experience is the most important. Fail, and fail hard, and then fucking learn from it (as Gordon might say). It’s great to have a mentor, but sometimes that can make one’s art very other-directed. The point becomes pleasing the teacher instead of getting satisfaction from doing the work. Also, you can watch Gordon Ramsay carmelize strawberries all day long, but until you actually sit down and do it, all you’ve got is theoretical knowledge.
And theoretical knowledge is sometimes just as useless as ignorance. Yesterday, I learned that theoretically, I could make mac and cheese in the microwave using a mug cup. But when I actually practically did it, I learned that there’s a pretty good reason why people don’t do it that way. My mac was fucking RAAAAWWWW! My cheese made an edible lump and gently colored my milk, so the soup part was OK. Only, it wasn’t supposed to be cheese pasta soup. My microwave had to be declared a disaster zone.
So, there are the basics I’m going to work on this week: supplies, time and practical application. We’ll see what happens.
(BTW, my cleaning rant last week seemed to knock loose some dirt in the upper regions of my mind. My desk is still a mess, but . . . I WROTE A VERY SHORT STORY!!! So, I don’t care about my failures on the physical plane. You can see it over in the comments of Elizabeth’s post of March 22, 2017. Anything good happen for you this week? Knock some cobwebs out of the corners? Created some very lovely cobwebs for a lonely corner?)