Why writing is like cooking

I love a good metaphor. And in my new life as café-owning writer, I can’t help but see the metaphorical parallels between writing and cooking.

As a writer, I’m confident in my ability to turn out (reasonably) good copy, on time, every time. My confidence comes from my understanding of my writing processes. I know how I work and I have a set of techniques that I can apply to any writing task. Because I understand the way I work, I know how to begin, how to work through each stage, and how to solve any problems that arise.

I see writing as a craft, not an art: it’s something that I’ve learned through practice and reflection. And there’s still so much to learn!

Working with chefs has made me realise that cooking is just the same. Chefs learn a set of techniques that they apply to their work with food. Through experience, they know how to work with food, solve problem, and rescue disasters.

Here are some of the parallels that I’ve noticed between cooking and writing:

  • Many people think they do a reasonable job of writing/cooking; it’s not uncommon for people who have a little knowledge to believe they know as much as experts (this is the ‘but I don’t need a professional writer’ conundrum – and I think it’s more common in writing than cooking)
  • Most people are good enough writers/cooks to write/cook adequately in most circumstances – they can work to a standard that will meet basic needs
  • Many people think of writing/cooking as something they learned during childhood, with little need for ongoing learning – writing/cooking is part of their life, not their profession
  • Many people have an under-developed writing/cooking palate, and can’t distinguish good writing/cooking from poor writing/cooking; reflecting on excellent writing/cooking is not something that occupies their minds
  • Many people don’t understand that technique is more important than effort
  • Many people don’t understand that technique and experience far outweigh innate ability and artistic temperament
  • Many people have no idea that they could easily improve their writing/cooking with specific, learnable techniques.

If you’d like to become a better cook, you need to do a lot of cooking, read about cooking, talk to people about cooking, do your fair share of taste testing, and critique everything you taste.

If you’d like to become a better writer, you need to do a lot of writing, read about writing, talk to people about writing, do your fair share of reading, and critique everything you read. It makes sense to read things twice – once for meaning, and once to examine the way the piece is written.

Both cooking and writing are complex fields with many sub-genres. If you want to be an excellent pastry cook, practise cooking pastries more than you practise casseroles. And if you want to be an excellent workplace writer, practise workplace writing more than you practise novels or poetry.