Cooking the books

January 13th, 2008

An ancient master said, “When you boil rice, know that the water is your own life.” – Dogen Zenji

I like to cook. Not always, mind you. But I can honestly say I’m no longer afraid to cook; no longer preoccupied with how things will turn out. I don’t cook as sport or even as art. I cook just to cook, as a mysterious and fulfilling practicality. What most delights me about cooking is using what I already have on hand in ways I hadn’t planned. Kind of like a spontaneous symphony. Well, more like a whistle.

This wasn’t always true of me. I never learned to cook and I never had to cook. When I took up residency here, in this home as a whole woman and a wife, after accomplishing my life’s shallow ambition by the age of 35 and then falling splat on my ass, I began to cook. When my parents visited me here for the first time, my father came into the kitchen wide-eyed. “Artice,” he called to my mother. “You’ve got to see this. Karen made scrambled eggs.” He was just amazed, and so was I. Life is amazing! And breakfast is pretty miraculous too.

This week I’m going to write about writing. I just opened the cupboards and saw what I had on hand. Everywhere I turn, I see my friends talking about writing; they confess their aspirations and fears. Everywhere I turn, I see my own obstinate doubts and hindrances. I wasn’t always inclined to be so glib about writing. I stopped myself from blogging for a long time with the excuse that bloggers were “only writers” and therefore not my readers. Yes, I can be that way. I can be that mean and small and stingy and scared.

But now I feel a rush to get the word out so you have these encouragements and ingredients on hand. Please know that as I recite them I am nourishing myself. Here they all are, and I will take up each point separately in a longer post as circumstances allow.

Instructions to the Cook
1. Writing a book is not about the book.
2. It’s not even about the words.
3. The more you write the more you write.
4. Start writing but don’t stop reading.
5. Every no is a yes.

So this week, let’s read and let’s write. Send me your comments or questions, and we’ll scramble the eggs into something you can swallow.


  1. I’ve got such a complicated relationship with the kitchen I can’t even begin to comment on that…but writing..yes! The more you write the more you write. Absolutely. I don’t have a recipe for writing but I peer in my mind see an image and put it on the page and somehow that leads to the next and to the next and then–like magic and a lot of hard work–it’s done.


    So, if I may be so bold as to ask–what kind of writing are you stirring up?

    Comment by marta — January 13, 2008 @ 4:52 am

  2. Ah, just had a perfect wake-up moment. Perfect because I just work up, read this, wrote quite a long comment, filled with important insights and discoveries. Then my small teacher Pearl, who is sitting on my lap singing “vivavivavivaveeeee” to the tune of the ABC song, hit some mystery button and it all vanished.

    Two days ago I wrote that this is the year of the book. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. It’s not about the book. “Your life is your practice.”

    So glad you’re there! So glad I’m here!

    With love,

    xo Jena

    Comment by Jena Strong — January 13, 2008 @ 11:22 am

  3. Oh Karen, thank-you for this.
    Just what i needed today.
    Thank-you for these words and the words to come, thank-you in advance for those.
    I’m sitting here, all ears.
    And I’m writing my heart out.
    And this morning, maybe just because of the few days I’ve been having, but yes, there was miracle in scrambled eggs. And so reading your words, the tears came.

    Comment by bella — January 13, 2008 @ 6:47 pm

  4. This is very timely because I’ve just begun a new novel. It is very true that the more you write the more you write. Before I began my blog, I wasn’t writing at all. Now that I’m doing the blog, I’m coming up with more ideas. I’m feeding my creative side…. stirring the pot so to speak. And now for the first time in years, I’ve actually got a new idea for a novel. It all tastes so good! I look forward to your follow-up posts.

    Comment by Shelli — January 13, 2008 @ 8:27 pm

  5. I am so in.

    It’s funny. As i began this entry, I had a lovely tingle of ‘ah, this woman is such an amazing writer. how does she do it? she talks of cooking and she means cooking but she is going to drop me off somewhere i least expect.”

    and so you do.

    the more you write you write.

    why do i feel so guilty about being behind a computer, creating my own passion with words?

    in your book you speak of ‘the routine’ and how it really saved you in the parenting journey. do you have a writing routine? how did you balance it when your daughter was little? it seems like mine has no ritual, space or time. I just steal moments here and there and it works, but not really. do you have any ritual? a certain schedule that works for you? How do you stay focused? With all the amazing writing out there on online, i tend to get pulled into others words and then there is no time for my own.


    Comment by mb — January 14, 2008 @ 2:56 am

  6. Karen-
    This post came to me exactly at the right moment. I was feeling stuck in the muck about many things but very much so about my writing. Reading it I felt as though your wisdom was coming up from my own heart.
    Thank you for it. I look forward to following along this week EVEN MORE than normal.

    Comment by meg — January 14, 2008 @ 4:01 am

  7. Marta,
    I’m writing what I’ve been asked to write. You probably have a better idea of what that is than I do. I know that I will write it and I know that I can, I just don’t know how, what or when.

    Other than that, dinner was pretty good tonight. Mashed potatoes and veggie loaf.

    Comment by Karen — January 14, 2008 @ 4:26 am

  8. Allow me to jump in with the obvious question: new book soon? When, when? Please! No pressure.

    Comment by Mama Zen — January 14, 2008 @ 4:45 am

  9. mb,
    I don’t know if you did the math, but it took me four years to write my first book. (And a short book at that.) Good thing I wasn’t writing a book! The thing is to not “objectify” your writing as an activity that takes place outside of the chaos of your life. I wrote a sentence or two in a journal by my bed as they occurred to me, without knowing how or when I might use them. Whole chunks of Momma Zen were reclaimed from bedside journals with the shriek of “Eureka! That’s why I wrote that story down!” Somehow, someway, everything gets used. But if you think of your writing as the prisoner entrapped in the fortress of your life, it will stay that way.

    Little by little.

    Comment by Karen — January 14, 2008 @ 6:37 am

  10. “But if you think of your writing as the prisoner entrapped in the fortress of your life, it will stay that way.”

    Very true. Very true. And, great advice … but how to get past it when the novel itself isn’t biographical?

    Blogging comes easy because it is my bedside journal of sorts. My novel, though, is entirely different. How do I blend it in with the rest of my life … blogging, professional writing and novel writing?

    (Answer this question and then bottle and make millions)

    Comment by Shawn — January 14, 2008 @ 6:10 pm

  11. Shawn,
    Very good question and one that I think people relate to very strongly.
    None of us is writing biography, though; in the deepest and most profound sense of the word, all of us are writing fiction. But no matter what we think we are writing, all we have to work with is ourselves. Our senses, our memory, our experience, our insight, wisdom, empathy and truth. I’ll work this into to the soup.

    Comment by Karen — January 14, 2008 @ 8:12 pm

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