Ideas and French Cooking

(Remixed from an old post. Hm, that's kind of appropriate, actually.)

Madeleine L'Engle once wrote a book called Walking on Water. It's an interesting look at how faith and art overlap. In fact, to hear L'Engle tell it, the two are far more intertwined than most people realize. I'd strongly recommend this book for artists who are Christian, but I think it has something to say to non-Christian artists and Christian non-artists as well.

This post isn't about faith though. There was a passage about how L'Engle turned ideas into stories. Her method, it turns out, is a lot like mine, though she describes it much more eloquently:

When I start working on a book, which is usually several years and several books before I start to write it, I am somewhat like a French peasant cook. There are several pots on the back of the stove, and as I go by during the day's work, I drop a carrot in one, an onion in another, a chunk of meat in another. When it comes time to prepare the meal, I take the pot which is most nearly full and bring it to the front of the stove.

So it is with writing. There are several pots on those back burners. An idea for a scene goes into one, a character into another, a description of a tree in the fog into another. When it comes time to write, I bring forward the pot which has the most in it. The dropping in of ideas is sometimes quite conscious; sometimes it happens without my realizing it. I look and something has been added which is just what I need, but I don't remember when it was added.

When it is time to start work, I look at everything in the pot, sort, arrange, think about character and story line. Most of this part of the work is done consciously, but then there comes a moment of unself-consciousness, of letting go and serving the work.


Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Awesome! (although I totally need recipes. Not sure what that says about my work.) :)

linda said...

Oooh, neat! Love L'Engle and love the quote. I think that's how I deal with Shiny New Idea Syndrome. I add it to my files and let it accumulate various elements on the sly while I focus on my current project. :)

Myrna Foster said...

That's how I do it. Thanks for posting this. I really should read her book.