I’ve been watching a lot of the original UK version of wonderfully vulgar chef Gordon Ramsay’s show, Kitchen Nightmares, on the Netflix. This means I’m not only getting to see a lot of pathetic restaurant owners serving disgusting food and making complete dolts of themselves, but I’m also getting to hear strings of profanities long enough to encircle the earth three or four times over. It’s fucking awesome.
While it’s all good and fun to watch these inept businesspeople and foodsmiths sweat under Ramsay’s hellfire gaze and barrage of curse words, I find there’s a lot of practical advice smattered in there. Shows like this make me excited about being an … and you’ll need to imagine the following word in the biggest, fattest quotation marks your mind can conjure … artist. Most of the chefs on Kitchen Nightmares are struggling creatively in some way, which is why their businesses are failing. Most often, they are overly concerned with what Ramsay calls “pretentious fucking food,” or “fucking overblown pretentious fucking food” or “fucking ugly overpriced pretentious cock-inflating shit I wouldn’t serve my fucking dog” or some other combination of the words “fucking” and “pretentious.”
In the end, most episodes revolve around Ramsay struggling with the chefs who need to check their egos at the door and just create something good. Just because something’s complicated doesn’t make it delicious. It’s usually the opposite in fact. Doesn’t matter how much garnish you add if the meat’s not cooked correctly. Ramsay often refers to this as either “losing the plot” or “losing the fucking plot,” depending on how worked up he is at the time.
Although Kitchen Nightmares obviously revolves around the creation of cuisine, I think much of Ramsay’s advice can be applied to other arts … say, writing for example. That’s right, it always comes back to writing with me. Glance upward at the name of the blog if you’re wondering why.
Personally, I’m wont to make every single thing I write as complicated as possible. Sentences tend to stretch on toward the end of days; semicolons and colons and comma-ands litter paragraphs like Frito-Lays packages on city streets; and heaven forbid I write a single sentence with the traditional “subject-verb-noun” arrangement. Because I have some inane hang-up with writing two sentences that begin in the same way next to each other (Ex: Magdalena got out of bed and went to the kitchen. She opened the cabinet and screamed when the wombat popped out and clawed at her face.), I usually end up working doubly hard when writing, twisting and contorting my sentences in awkward ways to make them seem different, but not necessarily better. I may find the two-sentence story about Magdalena and the angry wombat living in her kitchen to be a bit dry in its execution, but it’s a technically sound way to tell the tale. Although I COULD rearrange the words so that the two sentences aren’t so similar in structure (Ex: Magdalena got out of bed and went to the kitchen. Opening the cabinet, she screamed when the wombat popped out and clawed at her face.) it doesn’t really make the story itself any better. In fact, it’s a bit confusing.
If Ramsay’s show were called Writing Nightmares, he’d have a field day with me. I mean, a “fucking field day” with me.
I don’t think I’m alone in this, or at least I hope not. It’s just so easy to slip into the nasty habit of trying to make what I write sound like writing rather than just a story being told. I’ll read how other writers write and wish I could write just like them, which is, of course, stupid. It’s not HOW you write that’s most important; it’s WHAT you write. While I may not be able to use an army of poetic words to conjure beautifully desolate imagery like Cormac McCarthy can, but he’d never be able to tell the semi-tragic story of a small southern town troubled by a giant garbage monster and a 400-foot neurotic dog-beast … supposing Cormac McCarthy would want to write something like that. Which, of course, he wouldn’t.
Bottom line: I think if I can keep Ramsay’s advice for cooking in mind while writing, I’d be better off for it. Pretentious writing is obvious, and I’d rather be the kind of person whose writing is considered simple but good than overblown and awful.
Oops. I mean “fucking overblown and awful.” Close call there.