Rules Gleaned from Mom for Creativity, Fun, and Writing

by | Jan 5, 2022

Recently I went through my late mother’s old and bulging recipe box — I remember it well from my childhood. It held a magical appeal for me, maybe because it was kept far from my reach on the top shelf of the pantry. Inside, it had family treasures that were collected and retrieved on-demand as Mom made wonderful meals and treats from the instructions held within.

When I was little, maybe 3 or 4 years old, Mom lifted me onto a chair next to her as she worked at the kitchen counter. She tied an apron on me, up around my armpits, to keep it from tripping me. Then she began to teach me how to cook and bake. As the years passed, I learned to make kitchen magic using my own handwritten cards, notes, and newspaper clippings — like the ones held in her long, old steel gray box.

In the beginning, as she rolled out a pie crust, she gave me the scraps to make whatever shapes I wanted. Then she let me sprinkle them with cinnamon and sugar, to be baked for a few minutes after the pie was done. Voila! A tasty treat I claimed complete credit for. It was fun. She made it fun.

Today I smile when I remember all the dishes served long ago. In part, I’m aghast at the way we used to eat. There were so many kinds of rich cakes and fat-filled casseroles, mayonnaise-laden salads, and whoever thought there’d be so many things made with Jell-O?

Someday archeologists are going to research the way people ate in the mid-19th century, in the same way, we today are interested in how they ate and cooked in pioneer days. Before anything fancier than a blender or electric mixer lived on our countertops. 

What does this little trip down Memory Lane have to do with writing? Actually, quite a bit. There are a number of lessons to glean. While I’m a pretty good cook now, I’ve often acknowledged that Mom and Dad deserved Purple Hearts for cheerfully choking down my adolescent attempts at cooking. In their later years, they reaped the rewards: I was their personal cook and caregiver. Investments of time, energy, and focus do pay off, eventually.

Now the lessons we can extrapolate for writing or any creative endeavor:

Rule #1: Creativity is messy. Your project won’t be born in polished, final form. You have to work at it and put the time in.

Rule #2: (With credit to Chris Whittle) “Learning is an inherently embarrassing process.” Accept that; keep going. It will get better.

Rule #3: When you get stuck, get back to the basics. You may have to cut ruthlessly, but your project will be better for it.

Bonus Rule: What you have to scrap from one project can often be used in another, so nothing is ever truly wasted.