April 21, 2014

Making sandwiches

I don’t normally post about the writing process here – as in, like, detailed descriptions of characterizations, writing action scenes, etc. – because A. those sorts of workshop-guides weren’t terribly useful to me as a developing writer, but also B. I don’t really understand how to write those sorts of things for other people.

Writing questions in general, for me, are a lot like hearing people ask me, “How do I make a sandwich? What’s the way that I become a sandwich-maker, a person that makes sandwiches?” And they’re asking this as if it’s an exotic and difficult thing to do, like becoming a certified engineer or an architect or something.

So I’m always kind of confused about how to answer. To extend this metaphor, my answers are usually about as helpful as, “You just go into your kitchen and do it.”

And that’s it. There’s not really a right way or a wrong way to write, nor is there a right way or a wrong way to make a sandwich.

Like, some people ask me the equivalent of, “When do I become a For-Reals sandwich-maker? Is it when I make a sandwich I really like? Or one my family likes, my friends? One that another person buys from me? One that TONS of people buy from me, in stores across the country?”

I don’t know. That’s up to you. Figure it out for yourself, man.

Or, “What if someone doesn’t like my sandwich? What if they HATE my sandwich? What if they’re so upset by my sandwich that they tell all their friends about my bad sandwich?”

I dunno. Fuck that guy, I guess. It’s just a sandwich. He doesn’t HAVE to eat it. There’s a bunch of sandwiches out there, if he’s obsessing about a bad one then that’s his problem. It’s up to you as to whether or not you want to make it your problem, too.

So when it gets down to the nitty gritty of writing, the questions all sound like:

“Can I put ham before the cheese?”


“Can I put ham AFTER the cheese?”


“But how will that change things?”

“In that sandwich, the ham will come after the cheese.”

“Do I need a degree to make sandwiches?”


“Will a degree help, though?”

“Maybe? I don’t know. Do you want to make the sort of sandwiches that you may or may not need a degree to make?”

“Can I do three slices of bread?”


“What about pickles?”

“Those are also things that can go in a sandwich.”

“Will people like them?”

“If people like sandwiches that have pickles in them, and you put pickles in a sandwich, then odds are they will like that sandwich.”

And so on, and so on.

Do you want to make a sandwich? Just go in your kitchen and get some bread and try stuff out. No one’s stopping you.

In fact, in all honesty, no one will probably care if you do or if you don’t, beyond a small circle of friends that are sympathetic to your sandwich ambitions. That’s both a hard truth, and a freeing one. Once you realize no one will likely give much of a shit about what you put in your sandwich besides you, you can do whatever you want.

Do you want to make better sandwiches? Then eat a shitload of sandwiches that are better than yours, and pick them apart as you eat them, looking through the bread and whatever, and try and figure them out.

But you don’t have to make THAT sandwich.

Writing workshops and writing degrees, odds are, will tell you how to make a specific range of sandwiches. Maybe a big range, maybe a small range. But, again, you don’t have to make THOSE sandwiches. Might be helpful to know how, but you’re not married to those sandwiches or anything.

Seriously, why would you want to make the same sandwich over and over again? Try stuff out. If it tastes bad, it tastes bad, but so what? You can always just make another sandwich.

Just start doing it, a lot, and figure it out.