Writing Skills That I Learned From Mom’s Cooking

I am the luckiest person on earth. Everyday I get to have dinner with my parents. I watch them from having a full head of black hair to a full head of white hair. My parents do not like to eat out, so we eat at home all the time.

I tried to learn cooking from my mom and I am a lousy student. Until today, I cannot cook any of her signature dishes. Yet by observing how mom cooks have made me a better writer.

Be Prepared. Mom prepares for dinner as early as the night before. She sometimes would marinate the ingredient overnight. The ingredients are all laid out in proper order by late afternoon.

Same as writing, I have to prepare my ideas way ahead before I start my first draft. In fact, I would have drafted my writing many times before I write a single word. To have a good start, always be prepared regardless in writing or cooking.

Master the Basics. Mom always keeps certain ingredients in the pantry at all times. That’s her go-to basic ingredients for many of her dish. She told me to forget about the cooking shows on TV. If I can master basic knife skills, cooking methods and ingredients combination, I would be a good enough cook.

According to this link, there is a total of 171,476 words but only 3000 words cover 95% of our daily usage. We do need that many fancy words in our writing.

Keep It Simple. Mom’s cooking are never sophisticated. There is no fancy plating or sophisticated cooking technique. Her foods are always good. By keeping it simple, there is less chance of making a mistake.

I am a fan of the Hemingway App. This app helps me to keep my writing simple and readable. It is like having my own personal editor. I cannot recommend it enough.

Too Much of a Good Thing is Bad. Mom insists on buying expensive food to a minimal. The same applies to festive seasons as well. When there are too much of good food on the table, we do not cherish what we have. Even if we can afford it, we still need to practice constraint. I still remember eating steam chicken from my childhood days. It was such a rare occasion that I eat cherish every single bite.

In writing, you may have a lot of ideas and arguments to put forward. Is it necessary to put down everything? Maybe not. Explore and go deep with a few good ideas. This helps the reader to stay engage with writing.

Be Spontaneous. Sometimes mom let the fridge and pantry tell her what to cook. There is no planning involved. Let each ingredient speak to her and she will prepare the meal. The only time that the ingredient speaks to mom is when the ingredient is about to expire.

Take a piece of paper and write freely. No structure. No ideas. Let your fingers do the writing. You will be surprised what comes out from the exercise.

Know Your Audience. Mom knows every family member’s favorite food. Everyday, she rotates each family member’s diet preference. Everyone looks forward to the meal and everyone gets to enjoy his or her favorite mom’s cook food.

As a writer, do you know whom you are writing to? Make sure your writing is relevant to your audience. Limit your audience. If you do not know who are your audience. Write something that you yourself want to read.

Look Out for Ideas. Mom watches TV cooking show and cut out recipes from the newspapers. She gets her ideas from a variety of sources. Her ideas evolve from what she saw. This keeps her passion in the kitchen burning.

Writing ideas can come from many sources. I get my sources from my personal diary, readings and observation. My mentor suggests that I should write about things that I do not know. This is how I can learn and improve.

Put Your Heart Into It. The family runs a tight ship and we have limited food budget. I still remember the times where my parents were struggling with money. Yet, I never remember we had a bad meal. No doubt, we cannot afford the freshest or the best ingredients. Mom has put in her best effort into her cooking. Her food came out great. To have great cooking, it all comes down to effort and passion, not ingredients.

To product quality writing, all we need is time and dedication. Not the latest gadgets or expensive pens. No doubt, it may help. At the end, it is how we can maximize the resources that we have and produce the best work.

Cooking and writing may need different tools and skillsets. The fundamental of these two activities are the same. At the end, it is about self-exploration and discovery.

Two Questions to Ask for the New Year

I enjoy planning out my trips.  I would check out the map in the computer and use an app to find my way there.

To get to your destination. You must know two critical pieces of information.

  1. Where are you now?
  2. What is your destination?

The same applies to life. To live your dreams and to achieve your ambitions. You need to know where you are and where you are heading.

So sit down, grab a pen and a piece of paper. Switch off your telephone and your computer. Lock the door and put up the Do Not Disturb sign. Take as much time as necessary to complete the exercise.

Draw a line right in the middle of the paper. On the left column, write down “Where Am I in Life?”. On the right column, write down “Where I Want to be in Life?”

Where Am I in Life?

You can break down the questions into categories. Categories such as career, wealth, health, and family. Do not cheat and be honest with yourself. Let the year’s experience tells you where you are. Listen to your feelings. You may not like your answers and this is fine. Life is a journey. If you do not know where you are, you cannot reach your destination in life.

Where You Want to be in Life?

What kind of life do you want in the future? Be as specific as possible. The more specific, the more tasks you can plan into the future. There is no dream that is too big. And there is no dream that is too small. Go wild and have a vision of your life.

Now, take a good look at the list. Overwhelming? Disappointed? That’s expected. I feel the same way when I reviewed the list. Ask yourself how badly you want to achieve those dreams? Whether those dreams are aligned with other dreams and your personal value? Sometimes, certain dreams are best left as dreams.

Try grouping the vision of your future together. The ones that are oddly stand out, chances are you may have to drop it. For example, you cannot have dreams of retiring at the age of 40 and running a multi-million dollars company at the same time

Those grouped dreams will be your target and you should aim big.

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.

~Norman Vincent Peale~

Get another piece of paper and plan your journey to reach your dreams. Put down specific action items and timeline. Put down resources that you need. If you do not have the necessary resources, then plan to get those resources. If you do not know what it takes to achieve the dreams. That’s also fine. Just put down one action item that you can do.

Finally, take massive action to complete what you have set out to do. No. I do not guarantee success that you will get what you want. However, I would guarantee that your life will never be the same if you take actions to do what are necessary.

Write Something That You Don’t Know

“I don’t think your writing is getting anywhere. Try spicing up your topics by writing about things that you do not know.”

What? My teacher always encourage me to write about something that I know. My mentor is asking me to write something that I do not know?

To write something that I do not know, I have to spent time studying the topic. It is the only way to learn.

To learn is not enough, I have to share. Before I can share, I have to use what I learned. Only then the knowledge stays with me.

“If information were the answer, we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs”

~Derek Sivers~

To use and apply what I learned also means to stumble and fall. There is no failing but a lesson learned.

Do something today. Do something that you do not know. Make it into a lesson.

When Fear Takes Over

I cannot remember my first trip to the dentist. But I remember the fear of going to the dentist. When I was a kid, a trip to the dentist means a trip to the torture chamber. Even as an adult, I dread going to the dentist. I would drag out my dental appointment to the point where I cannot procrastinate anymore.

Fear is probably the most paralyzing emotions. I pick up the phone to make an appointment, I was afraid. I drive to the dental clinic, I was afraid. I sat at the waiting room, I was afraid.

Looking back, I have never had a terrible experience at the dentist since I was a kid. Yet, I have never shake away the fear of dentist. I have probably let one or two bad incidents ruled a greater part of my adult life.

In fear, we only look at the possible bad things that might happen. We neglected all the good things that have happened. Fear clouds our judgment.

Unpleasant things may happen, but we may not need to amplify it by thinking about it all the time. A momentary pain can drag out into a life long of sorrow.

Life is filled with unpleasant things and we just have to accept it.

Learn to be mindful of your emotions. Be in touch with your feelings and label each emotion. Explore deeper on why you feel what you felt. It is okay to feel fear, just do not let fear takes over.

Learn to take actions. Afraid of getting bad grades? Then hit the books and study. Afraid of the dentist? Look after your teeth and keep it clean. Massive imperfect actions are the solution to most fears.

Be kind to yourself. We fear is because we think something bad will happen. Many times, those fear never materialize. We are in a hyper-competitive world, the biggest fear is the fear of failure. The fear of mistakes. We all make mistakes and bad things will happen to us. Be kind and be gentle to yourself. Do not let fear make the situation any worst than it should.

A little fear can be a warning signal to help us to stir our life in the right direction. Too much fear or having fear to take over, it stuns us from moving forward.