Last night (or very early this morning... depending on how you define 2:00 am), I stumbled upon a Julia Child documentary on PBS. It played clips from four decades of Julia's TV shows. Besides being amazed that Julia was slathering butter on both the inside and outside of a chicken, and then layering bacon on top of the butter, I was mesmerized by how passionate she was about cooking, and how much fun she had doing it.
As I was watched clips of Julia cooking, and interviews with famous chefs speaking about their time with her, I realized that I was learning powerful writing lessons, in addition to how to roast a chicken.
Here are 3 things I learned about writing from watching Julia Child cook:
- Be Yourself. When Julia was in the kitchen, she was at home, even when the TV cameras were rolling and millions were tuning in. As "The French Chef," and author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, she could have adopted a more professorial tone as she taught America how to cook French cuisine, and no one would have questioned it. Yet she was just Julia. She loved what she did, shared it joyfully, laughed easily, and turned every mistake into an opportunity to learn something new. Her personality shone through everything she did on television, and we loved her for it.
Beginning writers are constantly getting caught in-between the desire to come up with new and unique ideas, and the belief that they need to emulate successful authors in order to get published. What it takes them awhile to understand is that they can do both, simultaneously, by simply being themselves.
Offer something new, by being absolutely YOU.
- A Writer's "Voice" Is More Than Words. At the end of the documentary, clips from Julia's cooking shows rolled underneath the credits, her words muted by the musical soundtrack. Even without being able to hear her distinctive voice, I was riveted to the screen by how powerfully her personality still came across. You could see the joy in her face as her arms swung widely, and she made some culinary point with a pot in one hand and a spoon in the other.
That got me thinking about the many ways an author's voice might come across in her writing other than through her words. An author's "voice" encompasses more than the use of language, it includes pacing, plotting, punctuation, and every choice that's made. One author's love scene could be torrid, while another's chaste, with a third sneaking past it without a word. Some authors love to dip their prose into minutia, while others write with rich broad strokes.
Who you are will burst forth from your book in a myriad of ways. Some designed by you; others beyond conscious choice.
- Commit to Your Vision. Julia Child did a television series with Jacques Pepin called Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home. He was a famous chef, and liked to do things his way. Julia was the same. I loved watching the two of them together. Each was doing their piece of the recipe their own way, yet they were open enough to learn from each other.
As a writer, you're going to get feedback and suggestions from many people: friends, loved ones, critique groups, editors, agents, and publishers (to name a few). It can be a struggle to hold your vision steady in the face of so much creative and critical input. So it helps to be like Julia, strong and self-confident, yet open to listening to and learning from others.
Clarify your vision and voice, then commit to them. When you've steadied your vision within yourself, you can more easily weather the ups and downs of the writing life.
What lessons have you learned from Julia Child, or any other person you admire?