Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Recipe for Writing

by Nicole Seitz

The other night, I dreamed I was standing in front of a classroom of teens, telling them about everything I've learned about writing. About being a writer. I've just finished the first draft of my next novel, and I find that I always learn new things while writing a book, or else my old beliefs are reaffirmed. It's all a great learning experience--the struggles, the joys, the pressing forward. After writing my fifth book, I've learned quite a bit more than I knew when I was going into this career. So if I had to give some advice to a writer just starting out, what would it be?

I tried to remember what I was going on and on about in my hazy dream the other night, to no avail. And then last night I was rereading my manuscript, exhausted, and couldn't muster any other thoughts but sleep. Sadly, this morning, I'm all about the coffee and we're out of it. So I was thanking Heaven when I flipped open the food section of the newspaper today and saw that there's a movie coming out about Julia Child and a woman who decides to go through all 524 of her cookbook recipes. There, on the second page of the article, were the words I've been looking for...and Julia was a chef, not a writer. But you see, writing is just like anything else in, loving...I think you'll see.

In Julia's words:

"Find something you're passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it."
I will second that. If you are not passionate about writing...if it does not fill that deep pit that continually needs filling within you, you might want to look elsewhere. If you think you're going into writing for any of these reasons: money, status, sex (hee hee, sexy authors), or doing something easy -- you will most likely burn out at some point.

"I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate."

I was 32 and pregnant when I got the first inkling to write. I thought writing a novel would be an impossible undertaking. My first basically wrote itself. Up till then, I just read a little and admired writers from afar. Sometimes people fall into that thing they were made to do after they've already done so many other things that just didn't satisfy.

"The secret to a happy marriage is finding the right person. You know they're right if you love to be with them all the time."

Just yesterday I was thinking how writing is like a marriage. You find a man you love, you get skinny, you plan for the wedding, dream about it at night, then you have the big glorious event...and then...and then, you're married. For the rest of your life. No more weddings, just the ups and downs of day to day. So much like writing. I thought when I got that first book published and in hand that I would have "made it" wherever THAT was. Little did I know that it was only the beginning. I had to live day to day with the writing now, the pressing for words, having them flood me at inappropriate times, being frustrated when I didn't know what in the heck they were doing, being scared the writing was taking me away from other important things like exercise, sunshine...and then, every now and again, I get a tiny little wedding moment. Much like marriage. You must love this person you're with forever. Same goes for writing. Find ways to keep the love alive even when it's hard. If you're truly passionate about it, you won't let the small things turn into burnout.

"Being tall is an advantage, especially in business. People will always remember you. And if you're in a crowd, you'll always have some clean air to breathe."

This is inspired, Julia. I am not tall by any means. I'm 5'3" and three-quarters, thank you. But this quote refers to writing as well. Do you want to be tall, original, and stand out? Or do you want to write the same thing someone else is writing? Sure, you can make a living, writing to formula and putting out things you know will sell, stuff just like everything else. Hey, I'm not against money, we all need to make a living. But to feed the SOUL, that deep pit that needs filling over and over, I say rise above. Do something different, original, be true to yourself. It's the only way to have fresh air wherever you're standing. Otherwise, there's hot air and back draft all around. After a while, you'll need to take a bow, step out of the room and breathe again.

For new writers out there, God bless your journey. For others who have been around a while and feel the pounds and wrinkles of a long writing marriage, I wish for you fresh wind in your sails. Always try to remember why you fell in love in the first place.


Nicole Seitz is the author/cover artist of three novels and lives in Charleston, SC with her husband and two kids. Her latest book, A Hundred Years of Happiness, was inspired by her stepfather's service in Vietnam and the Vietnamese seafood restaurant she once worked in. Her next book, Saving Cicadas, is narrated by an 8-year-old girl whose single mother finds herself pregnant again, and in her dilemma, hauls the whole family into the car for the last family vacation they'll ever have. Through the eyes of innocence, Janie must learn the truth about the people she loves the most and the difficult choices grown-ups make. The book is available for pre-order and hits stores December 1.

Find other Seitz books including The Spirit of Sweetgrass and Trouble the Water (Library Journal's Best Books of 2008) plus her artwork online at


JLC said...

As a former teacher in a comprehensive high school, I relate to your story--more than you'd think, given I was doing it over 35 years ago. Unfortunatately for me, I didn't have a book in hand that had made it into conventional publishing lists. I hope enough of your students can see this to benefit from your words of wisdom! The name of the game is, indeed, passion. What's so hard is finding out how to allow it to burst out strongly enough to displace ordinary everyday necessities.

Elaina M. Avalos said...

Great advice, Nicole. I found the comparison of writing to being like a marriage to be a particularly strong one for me.

Jennifer Lyn King said...

Fantastic blog, Nicole. Thank you for sharing your writing journey... Writing is such a solitary process, it's helpful to listen to your, and others', perspective and process. Congrats on finishing your 5th novel first draft! Godspeed!

Theresa Shadrix said...

I also love how you related Julia's comments about food, marriage and life to that of writing. Great blog and great advice!