We talk so much about butt-in-chair time as writers. “A writer is someone who writes,” we say, snidely.
And that’s all very true, of course. Books don’t magically write themselves. That niggling story idea in the back of your brain will never come to fruition if you never pick up a pen.
Yet so much of my own writing is done with nary a pen in sight. As a cook, I’m a religious believer in the equation of simple ingredients + time = magic. A chicken baptized with salt and time is a thousand times more flavorful than one pulled straight from its packaging. Cabbage and salt, when left alone to their own devices in the dark, become complex, tangy sauerkraut. Fruit macerates, cucumbers pickle, and a three-ingredient marinade turns a ten-dollar roast into the stuff of legends.
The missing ingredient from much of the work I reject is not sparkling language or a prestigious bio: It’s time. An editor can tell immediately if a piece is too hot, unseasoned, or raw for consumption; it has not sat in the writer’s own mental pressure cooker for nearly enough time. Perhaps its sharpness needs to be mellowed by reader feedback. Or perhaps the work’s components have not yet had time to marry and they sit angularly in contrast on the page, all elbows and knees and no grace.
The good news, the very best news for busy writers like you and I, is that all the time that your work needs is hands-off. Like cabbage and salt, your characters will develop complexity if you let them live in your mind for long enough. Turn the themes of your essay over and over in your mind until they polish as smoothly as river stones. Test dialogue out loud as you stir the soup or scrub the floors.
Better still? All that pressure that comes from filling a blank page? Gone. Vanished. You’re merely auditioning words and ideas, not committing them permanently to paper.
When you land on the right answer, the white-hot solution to your block or the beating heart of your story, then run to the page and let your fingers fly to get it all down.
Until then, percolate.