Friday, December 30, 2011

Writing and Bean-and-Cheese Tacos

You may not know this, but if you've ever had a bad bean-and-cheese taco, then you possess the secret of why writing is hard.

On the face of it, both writing and bean-and-cheese tacos seemingly could not be easier. After all, most of us know how to string words together into sentences, and most of us know how to open up a can of refried beans and packages of cheese and tortillas.

So why is it that you can still find plenty of instances of professionally made bean-and-cheese tacos that just aren't any good? The beans are bland, or the cheese isn't sufficiently melted ... perhaps the tortilla isn't quite right in texture or flavor.

The reason, of course, is that in spite of the simplicity of the ingredients, an excellent bean-and-cheese taco requires that the person making it know what he or she is doing, and take the time to do it well. Maybe it's a matter of knowing the right amount of salt or the right kind of cooking fat to add to the beans. Maybe it's understanding how to bake a homemade tortilla, or at least how to properly prep a store-bought one on a griddle so that it is subtly toasted without becoming stiff. Maybe it's knowing just the right brand of cheese to buy, or grating it yourself, or both. I wish I knew, because then I could make myself a great bean-and-cheese taco, and I wouldn't have to risk being disappointed at bean-and-cheese tacos purchased elsewhere.

My point is, you have to know what you're doing to make a really good bean-and-cheese taco. You have to know your ingredients, know how to prepare them, take great care to achieve the right proportions, the right temperatures, the right timing. Even minor errors could result in a taco that's just okay, or one that's intolerably over-salted.

And writing is the same way, but with one crucial difference: if you don't know how to make a good bean-and-cheese taco, and you make a bean-and-cheese taco anyway, you're probably going to realize right away that your taco is no damn good. Maybe you won't care, especially if you have a secure job cooking tacos and the inadequacy of your bean-and-cheese ones is going to impact others rather than offending your own taste-buds. But you ought to care, and it's a shame when taco chefs don't.

Writers, on the other hand, often appear not to recognize the insufficiency of their efforts. They seem to think, once they've put together a bunch of sentences, thrown in some elves and dragons or spies and helicopters, and produced a plot that has at least a vague upward slope to it and some kind of turning point to the end, that the mere act of creation itself is enough. But creation without consumption is nothing, and if you want someone to consume your work, then you need to take care with matters of taste and texture.

So it's my job as a writer to understand that what I'm doing is hard, and that I need to be careful with it. It's not enough for me to say, "Okay, I'm going to spoon a glob of this in here, sprinkle a handful of that on, wrap it up in this, and -- done."

The mere presence of beans, cheese, and a tortilla in the same space does not a good taco make.

1 comment:

  1. practice makes perfect, and in cooking a very husky chef!