Friday, July 23, 2010

The fine art of feeding yourself

My recent posts about my recipe cupboard have generated some interesting emails, tweets, and blog comments about my cookbooks.

In case you’re wondering – yes, my Better Homes & Gardens cookbook is indeed disintegrating from overuse, and yes, the Intercourses aphrodisiac cookbook really will make your spouse lie down naked on the dinner table (so maybe don’t use it when your mom visits).

A couple comments reminded me of a conversation that took place when I first purchased one of the books:

Clerk (eyeing the book, then eyeing me): A Weight Watchers cookbook?

Me: Um, yes. And also this shower brush shaped like a penis.

Clerk (eyeing me some more): That’s not a penis, it’s a leg. And why do you need a Weight Watchers cookbook? You’re thin.

It was one of those moments I wish I were quick with clever retorts. My first instinct was to wonder if the clerk also chided overweight customers purchasing dessert cookbooks. Then I imagined the inappropriate conversation I could spark by returning to the counter with a sex manual.

But I suppose I can’t fault the clerk’s observation. Yes, I’m a relatively thin person who just happens to like healthy cooking. My intense love affair with my Reader’s Digest How To Book of Healthy Cooking doesn’t mean I’m on an anorexic quest to drop 50 pounds, but it does probably mean I’m interested in keeping the figure I have.

It’s funny this subject should come up the same week I’ve been contemplating taking an online course on revisions from author Lani Diane Rich (aka Lucy March).

I mentioned it to an acquaintance the other day, and she looked at me like I’d just announced my intent to try sword swallowing.

“But you’ve already got a book deal,” she said. “Why do you need a writing class?”

I’m intrigued by this idea that an author could reach some I have arrived pinnacle and suddenly kick back with a glass of Sangiovese and the smug certainty she knows everything there is to know about writing.

If there is such a pinnacle, I don’t want to reach it.

Isn’t that the thrill of this business? The fact that no matter what stage you’re at in your career, you can always learn and grow and fine-tune your writing? There are a million ways for an author to refill her bag of tricks, and that’s part of what keeps this process fresh and fun. I don’t care if you’re a brand new author or Stephen King – smart writers are always working to hone their talents and sharpen their skills.

How about you? What do you do to maintain or improve your writing abilities?

Please share in the comments.

I'll be busy enjoying my healthy cookbooks and my online writing class and especially my penis-shaped shower brush.

15 comments :

Danica Avet said...

I think our capacity to learn (anything) shouldn't end when we've reached our destination whether it's graduating from college, or being published. The people who are successful are the ones who constantly keep up their skills by taking classes, or reading about their field. I'm not an expert in anything, but I like to learn new things just for the hell of it.

And who would want a shower brush shaped like a leg anyway? Penis shapes are more er...fun

Linda G. said...

Yup. Stop learning, stop living.

Not that I really want to learn any more about cooking. But I'm always happy to be a beta eater for anyone who cares to continue their culinary education.

Kelly Breakey said...

I am sorry I didn't leave a comment the first time I stopped by but I had to click through to the link on Inter Courses the aphrodisiac cookbook, buy it and then call the husband to tell him about it.

I love when I learn new things. And that goes for writing too, but right now I am just thinking about sex.

How long will it take before the book gets here?

Matthew Rush said...

Well for me the number one way to improve my writing is by reading, a lot. The second best way is by connecting with all of you other writers, so thanks for existing!

By the way I loved your anecdote about the clerk but I really hate when people do that. It's like when the Blockbuster cashier warns you that they didn't like that movie. Are you serious? If I cared what you thought I would have asked.

Does that sound mean?

SM Schmidt said...

There's a great quote by a writer (that of course I now can't remember) along the lines of specialization is for insects. Why would a writer want to stop learning random new things? It'll all end up in one form or another enriching something else and not always a book.

Candyland said...

I read posts like this!!!

LadyGenette said...

I think any author who feels she's reached her peak is undervaluing herself. I remember being twelve and thinking I'd written the next great American novel, and whaddaya know? Seven years later and I'm still trying to revise it into something readable.

Now, obviously an unschooled 12-year-old is different from a grown woman. Still, by the time you're 65, you'll look back at some scenes and think, "Wow!" and at others and say, "Holy hell, I had a lot of wine that night."

Writers who love writing never stop learning or refining. It's half the fun.

Just my humble opinion.

Elizabeth Ryann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elizabeth Ryann said...

It's funny, because for me, writing classes were by far the least effective thing I ever did for my writing. Like, BY FAR. As in they were rather counterproductive, and I accept that it's because for the most part I had extremely imcompatible-with-my-learning-style teachers, but still. What works much much better for me is reading, tons, and stumbling across a great book. Even a great book that has problems. I have one book that without fail puts me in the mood to write, no matter how cranky I am or how many times I've read it. I can see that it's not perfect, but the crafting of it really resonates with me. And that gets me fired up. I also like talking to other writers, and just hanging out with them, because they understand the struggles and joys of writing -- but this one can be tricky for me because writers as a group, I find, can get extremely depressed and preachy about risks and goals, and focusing only on the negative kills my drive for the day extremely quickly. I can also get frustrated hearing really positive stuff about how supportive (in the financial sense) families are, and how staying at home and writing is such a wonderful gift. I'm sure it is. And I am genuinely excited for that person who gets to experience that. But it's not an option for me at the moment, so I don't like hearing about how extremely great it is again and again because I'll get sidetracked with envy. So it's a delicate balance (at least for me...probably b/c I'm a Libra and obsessed with balance) of interaction. The only way to improve and get better is to get out there and interact, but you have to be really careful that your shields are in place and you know what is likely to send you off on a bad detour, and what is likely to energize you. And by "you," I clearly mean me. Since the writing journey is such an individualized one.

Patty Blount said...

Great post, great insight. I come from an education background, having begun my technical writing work developing training materials. Learning isn't just a life-long process, to me, it IS life itself.

I learn new tricks all the time (and whoever calls me an Old Dog risks getting bitch slapped!) As far as writing goes, I learn from you, dear Tawna, on a daily basis, as well all the other folks online who tweet and blog.

I'm also big into Master the Craft books. Love Maass' Fire in Fiction.

RosieC said...

A wise man said only a fool believes there's nothing left to learn.

Thanks for the link to the online writing class. I'm desperately looking to improve my craft. Not having a book deal does help the motivation, but I'm sure I would be doing the same in your position. There are always way to improve and continue developing.

At the moment I'm trying to do revisions based on advice of unofficial "editors" and self-help books from the library since I can't afford a real editor or a class :) Gives new meaning to "starving artist" :)

Michael said...

Very, very good point.

My mother has always said this-diabetic cookbooks make perfectly healthy, yummy food. You don't have to be diabetic to use them or enjoy them.

Plus, how does she think you got thin? Sure, some of it is genetic, but some of it is portion control and not eating like an idiot, too. And you're not going to be the age you are now forever-your metabolism will slow down, and you will need to maintain your good dietary habits if you want to maintain your figure.

It's kind of like being rich-(not that I'd know)-rich people don't get that way by spending money. They could spend a lot more, but they don't-that's why they stay rich.

Why do you think writers read? If they are successful, they want to stay there!

Christina Auret said...

I agree that no matter what you do, you can always improve.

I have a graphic* example of this:

I drew portraits all through high school (grade 8 to 12 in South Africa). I kept all my good pictures in a file. All those pictures that I though were the best I could do. The improvement from the first to the last drawing was staggering. All the pictures were the best I could do at the time. Every drawing was better than the one that preceded it.

The file is my reminder that the best I can do is not a static point.

*Pun very much intended. So shoot me.

Tawna Fenske said...

Danica, amen about continued learning! And I really, REALLY wish I could find that stupid shower brush so I could post a pic. I totally looks like a penis, I swear.

Linda G, beta eater?!!?!? LOL, you crack me up!

Kelly, you'll have to report back and tell me how you like the book. It's quite delicious!

Matthew, I'm totally with you on reading being the #1 way to improve writing. It always kills me when aspiring authors tell me, "I really don't read much." WTF? That's like a chef saying, "I really don't like food."

SM Schmidt, LOL, I'll have to go looking for that bug quote now :)

Candyland, and don't you feel enriched now?!

LadyGenette, argh, I know what you mean about looking back at your first writing attempts and going, "really? I thought this was the next bestseller? What the @#$% was I thinking?" But it's always good to have that perspective, isn't it?

Elizabeth, LOL, you know what? I've never actually taken any writing classes (except a few random things in college, but none were targeted at NOVEL writing). This one I'm contemplating will be my first, which is probably why my acquaintance had that "WTF?" response. I also totally hear you on the pitfalls of joining writers' groups (a big reason I never joined RWA until a couple months ago). Guess I can add both the classes and the group joining to my list of new things I'm trying to broaden my horizons, eh?

Patty, I shudder to think you are learning from ME!

RosieC, though I'm obviously contemplating that writing class right now, I'll throw out the caveat that formal classes aren't necessary (and aren't something I've done up to this point). If money is an issue, there are tons of free options out there like critique groups and online writing forums and reading, reading, READING :)

Michael, I figure there's a good balance in my cupboard of healthy cooking books and decadent ones. It's all about balance, both in writing and in cooking!

Christina, love your "graphic example!" How cool that you get to have a perspective like that.

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna

Jeannie said...

I know I'm later to this party, but as a teacher with twenty five years under my belt, I can tell you I NEVER stop learning. I take classes and talk to colleagues and I'm always looking for ways to sharpen my skills. It's the only way to keep what you love doing fresh.