Good writers have a lot to learn from Epicureans, which I recall every time I dip into the beautiful tradition of food writing with my students. Good cooks answer to the history of cooking. They learn from one another as they practice their craft. They catalog flavors, chemistries, heat and cold. They learn words to match nearly inexpressible sensations: piquant. Bittersweet. Cooks combine, and remember, and play and recombine. Eventually they acquire their own palettes, philosophies, and flourishes.
A good cook makes something for the sake of a one-time sensuous experience, and it’s usually someone else who benefits. Cooking for someone else is a generosity — and so is writing. I think we forget this, and our writing suffers because of it. In the world I inhabit, women who want to write are often seen as self-indulgent, or worse, selfish. And so if we write at all, we write parsimoniously. We don’t give enough to the page. We starve the readers who might actually be hungry for our best concoctions.
How to answer to that? Write if you want to. Write if you need to. Think of it as a gift — like cooking for family, nourishing travelers who need your sustenance. Writing is a daily task, whether or not you actually get words to the page. Think, pay attention, keep paragraphs like you keep recipes. Accumulate. Live for the next familiar or exotic flavor, and make some kind of sense of it. Stir it. And if you don’t cook? It’s only a metaphor. But it’s a good one, especially for those of us — of any gender — who think maternally.