Writer’s Kitchen: Cleaning the Cutting Board

From time to time I’m reminded of similarities between the work I do in the kitchen and the work I do at the keyboard. Both cooking and writing are creative activities that take clear thought to do well. A distracted and disorganized cook forgets ingredients, burns food, and generally makes the process a stressful and chaotic mess. A distracted and disorganized writer forgets deadlines, turns out sloppy copy, and suffers from similar stress and chaos.

Recently I was reading from Anthony Bourdain’s book, Kitchen Confidential, and one part that resonated with me was a part where he talked about one of his past mentors chiding him for having a messy cutting board. The notion was that a chef’s mind reflects his or her work surface, so keep stacks of towels handy and wipe the board clean often. I started working with this technique in the kitchen when cooking dinner every evening. I’ll dice an onion and wipe the board. Mince garlic… wipe… slice peppers … wipe… etc. I can’t say that it’s improved the quality of my food, but I feel more in tune with the process for sure. Having not worked in a restaurant I can only imagine this effect is magnified a thousand-fold in a busy kitchen.

Mirepoix on cutting board

A neatly organized mirepoix. Photo by Pigup [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Now how does this apply to writing? I don’t know about everyone else, but I don’t think keeping a stack of towels next to my keyboard would be all that helpful. But clearing notes off of my desk, emptying my inbox, and closing documents when I’m not using them seems like a good approach. Like many people, when things get busy certain tasks get pushed to the side. Many times I’ll find myself at the end of a work day with five Word documents, a dozen browser tabs, and three emails open. And those are often the days I feel most distracted.

So I’m going to “clean my cutting board” when writing. Certainly I can keep my desk and email inbox clean, but I also want to see how beneficial it is to close windows when I’m not using them.