How I Write: Ruth Reichl
Published: September 19, 2002
|Reading Ruth Reichl's bestselling memoirs--Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me With Apples--is like being a guest at a great dinner party, where fabulous food, witty conversation and generous hospitality leave you with a warm glow. Reichl is a natural storyteller who delights the reader with her funny and poignant culinary tales, which are as much about life as food. One of the nation's best food writers, Reichl was restaurant critic for New West, California, the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times. She is currently editor-in-chief at Gourmet magazine. Her writing invites you to share her experiences. It's an invitation you won't want to pass up.|
Credits: Mmmmmmm: A Feastiary (1972), Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table (1998), Comfort Me With Apples: More Adventures at the Table (2001). Editor: Endless Feasts: Sixty Years of Writing from Gourmet (2002).
[Why: I wish I could say I loved to write. I don't. I will do almost anything to avoid it (including washing the dishes and cleaning the toilet). But when you've been sitting at your desk for a long time, staring out the window, wishing you were anywhere else, something happens. It's a kind of magic that makes you completely disappear into your own imagination. When you return, you find that you've left words behind to remind you of the journey. Finding those words is the best feeling I know--and it is what keeps me sitting at the desk, day after day, waiting for it to happen again.
When and where: My favorite time is early in the morning, before anyone else is up. I love those moments, just before the noise and bustle of the day begins. It's a time when my head has not filled up with all the other things I think I should be doing.
How: I try to write as much as I can at one sitting and then go back and edit later. I pretty much just start and let the book take me where it will. I usually have a loose idea of what I think I'm going to be writing about, but along the way various characters show up and insist that I put them in. At the end, I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite, trying to get rid of all the seductively pretty words, trying to erase the traces of "writing" so the words sound natural. I love it when people say, "It feels as if you just sat down and wrote it in one sitting." There are probably people who can do that, but for me it takes a great deal of work to make the writing seem effortless.
Memoir writing: You have to decide how closely you want to adhere to the truth. This can be a problem, especially when dealing with people who are still alive. Then, too, you have to consider other people's feelings. I've never thought that writing should be a way of evening scores or working out problems.
Writer's block: Twenty years ago, M.F.K. Fisher told me she thought I should go work at a newspaper to get over my propensity for polishing every word as if it were a gem. I took her advice, and she was right: Daily journalism is a great way to get over writer's block. When your editor needs 20 inches to fill a space, you don't tell him that you're not inspired; you give him 20 inches.
Advice: Listen to the people around you as they talk. More importantly, listen to yourself as you tell a story. Everybody has a voice, but so many writers try to use a bigger, bolder or more "writerly" voice than the one that is natural to them.
Photograph by Michael Donnelly