Worth Tasting

Worth Tasting

My college professor spread out our creative writing papers before her like a feast.  The sight of 12-point font made her eyes sparkle like Thanksgiving china.  When she took a paper up in her hands, she read it with the expectation that something in it was going to be worth tasting.

Miss Williams loved words.  She delighted in the way you could mix them up and create something so profound, it lingered on your tongue for days.  She read our own words back to us, slowly savoring the sentences  in her mouth and searching for the tasty bits of well-turned phrases and clever dialogue that clung to our unpracticed writing like bits of bacon.

“Oh, Lawd!  Oh, sweet Jesus,” Miss Williams said when the words tasted so good, it was like chocolate. “Girl…hmmm…I gotta read that again.”   And she would, double-dipping without an ounce of shame.

Sometimes, one of us nailed it.  When that happened, well, we may as well have served her warm cherry pie with vanilla ice cream dripping off the sides because she was going to eat every crumb, and lick the plate besides.

“Bless me,” she said when everything was cleared away and grades were scribbled at the tops of pages and she was wiping her eyes because she was so full, it squeezed the tears right out of her.

If you’ve ever made anyone cry over the stuff you put down between one-inch margins, you know it feels like being the person who brings homemade Butterscotch Blondies to the church potluck, only better.  It’s like being the caramel sauce. 

I thought I was the caramel sauce, too, until I found my old writing folder from Miss Williams’s class.  I was horrified to read through my final class project and find a typo right there on page two.  I wanted to call her up and yell, “You gave me an A+ when I had a typo on page two?!”

But I knew what she would say.  She would say that it was Mrs. Johnson’s fault I had a typo on page two because Mrs. Johnson taught grammar, not she.

Mrs. Williams’s singular job was to teach us how to cook up a good story.

“The hardest thing about being a writer is not remembering where to put the commas!” she’d say in class, suffering a plastic desk to carry the weight of her bosom as she leaned into her tirade.  “The hardest part about being a writer is writingYou have got to get over the fear of putting words on paper imperfectly.  Perfect writing is just imperfect writing that has had practice.

It’s too bad because I always liked perfection more than I liked practice.

“Nonsense,” Miss Williams said whenever I hesitated to show her my half-cooked words.  “We’re just tasting as we go, that’s all.  It’s the only way to make sure it turns out right.”

It was agony.  I auto-corrected in my mind as the words came off my lips, but Miss Williams wasn’t listening for dangling prepositions.  She was savoring the words and anticipating the way it was going to come together in the end as if she could taste it, even when there was nothing in the pan but baking soda and flour.

Always, Miss Williams made me feel like it was better to have something imperfect on my page than nothing at all. Because Miss Williams loved words, even words that needed a little bit of stirring before they were done.

When my final story came of the printer, hot and smelling of ink, it was exactly what Miss Williams hoped it would be.  She licked the plate and scribbled A+ on the top, not because it was perfect, but because it was good.

It can be crippling, knowing people are reading my work who might not love words the way Miss Williams did, the kind that pick at words instead of tasting them.

I encountered one such person recently.  She believes that writers are so uneducated and lazy these days, she stops reading as soon as she finds one mistake.  She says she can’t take a writer seriously after that.

One mistake. 

I agonized over her statement for days because that’s the kind of thing that keeps my pages blank.  That’s the part that makes writing hard, when I can’t start because I’m afraid of failure or what other people will think or whether I’ll end up with burnt oatmeal instead of strawberry crepes.

Because I have a typo on page two.  There is probably another one on page five.

But there is bacon on page three and caramel sauce on page four and it is worth putting the words on the page even if not everyone is willing to read along while you learn how to do it better.  It is worth the try because excellence doesn’t come without practice and practice doesn’t happen without mistakes. 

But there are always people like Miss Williams who will think it’s worth tasting, burned edges and all.

Kristen

Kristen is the main character in a story in which a redemptive God takes a reluctant mother on a journey to find and reclaim her story. Now the wife of an Army chaplain and mother of five, Kristen writes about the joy of being part of God's audacious plan.

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  • http://youaremygirls.com/ JENNIFER CAMP

    Kristen, Thank you for reminding me about the Miss Williams’s! Oh, I just needed to hear this. And your writing here, friend, all of those yummy, delicious metaphors? . . . The whole thing just made me smile. Yep, good stirring going on here. Thank you.

    • HTTP://WWW.FIVEINTOW.COM

      This is what happens when I write hungry. :)

  • http://www.jessiquawittman.com/ JESSIQUA WITTMAN

    This…was…awesome!

    • HTTP://WWW.FIVEINTOW.COM

      And so we meet again, Jessiqua! Thanks for reading.

      • http://www.jessiquawittman.com/ JESSIQUA WITTMAN

        Hi! I told you I liked your stuff! ;)

  • GRACE

    I enjoyed reading this and you used such gorgeous metaphors.”we may as well have served her warm cherry pie with vanilla ice cream dripping off the sides”. Mmm! Now that is a delicious image for a Wednesday afternoon (or any afternoon, for that matter).

    It’s a shame that lady has such a harsh view of writers. Everybody makes mistakes. And though I am guilty of being a grammatical pedant (that’s what you get when you major in linguistics ;) ) I don’t fault writers for the occasional mistake here and there. I would be a hypocrite if I did — nobody’s perfect.

    It’s great that you had such a wonderful college professor. Did you major in creative writing?

    • HTTP://WWW.FIVEINTOW.COM

      Thank you for reading, Grace! The college I went to did not have a creative writing course, so I majored in a very grand program called Print Media Communications. But creative writing makes me so happy. :)

  • MSLORRETTY

    Hallleeeeelllluuuuuuuuuuuyaaah! Because I know I’m guilty of comma splice and incorrectly used….elipticals. Sometimes the ingredients get mixed up but that’s when you are in the middle of creating a masterpiece..a recipe all of your own. Bless it. Love it. Yum.

    • HTTP://WWW.FIVEINTOW.COM

      I think we’re all going to need pie now.

  • http://wordsfromthehomefront.com/ NANCY SMITH

    Oh my Kristen, i hear your words in my head going round and round. That demand for perfection has probably kept many words off my paper. If we could just speak our words and not have to worry about those commas, semicolons and full stops that I stumble over again and again. I will say that the punctuation is not my stumbling block as much as spelling. I’ve been guilty, like that woman who said she quit reading, of putting something down because of those misspelled words. Ouch. Ouch and Ouch. Thank you for this lovely story- I was right there in class with you and I could smell the cherry pie!

    • HTTP://WWW.FIVEINTOW.COM

      I like to tell myself that perfection is impossible, and excellence can only be judged by where I am at right now. What was excellent writing for me in fifth grade is not excellent writing for me now. I do not know what a writer is capable of, so I try to read with an eye for the “good bits” because I don’t want to miss out on what I might learn from her!

  • KARRILEE AGGETT

    I can’t really say how much I loved this! How much nourishment comes from it. I recently encountered a similar such person… she is a friend and I know her heart, so didn’t (or tried not to) take her words in the way in which they cut. In the midst of #31days, I had no choice… no blank page could sit alone, untouched; no time to let the comments set in deep! So I pressed on… and then this is here and it reminds me to keep cooking… keep bringing something to the table that feeds and blesses and (hopefully) satisfies down deep! So Much Thanks.. (and now I am hungry, so thanks for that too!) ;)

    • HTTP://WWW.FIVEINTOW.COM

      It’s so hard when people say things like that because they assume that we don’t care when we make mistakes. Non-writers do not understand how writing is like standing in a crowd, naked. We do not like seeing our flaws any more than they do!

      But I am so glad you did not let it stop you. Your words are the good-tasting kind, and I’m so thankful you keep writing!

  • HTTP://WWW.FIVEINTOW.COM

    I just have to tell you all that after I put my post in drafts last night, I went to bed. I woke up in the middle of the night, after the post had gone live, with the realization that I had written ‘coma’ instead of ‘comma’ in the paragraph about grammar. Be still my heart. I got up and looked at the screen, but by some miraculous act of God, it was corrected! The wonderful Christin Slade, who keeps all of us contributors looking good, SAVED ME from mortal shame with her editorial magic. Do you know how many times I read it and missed it? A ridiculous number of times. Thank goodness for grace, and for friends with sharp eyes.

  • CONNIE

    Since I am not perfect, and never will be until I get to heaven, perfect people just stress me out and torture me. It is such a relief to see a mistake now and then and know, ahhh, she’s human! (And I’m not a writer, I’m a nurse, which is where perfection is a really good thing to have-if it was possible!)

    • HTTP://WWW.FIVEINTOW.COM

      I feel the same way. I was reading a very popular blog just a few months ago and she accidentally left out an entire word. A whole word! And I thought, “Praise God!” because we all need the reminder that we’re human. But I’m thankful you’re a pretty perfect nurse!

  • MISSINDEEDY

    The delicious imagery aside, oh! How I loved this reminder that it’s what actually makes it down on the page, or screen, that matters. Caramel sauce – yes, please ! And now, I’m feeling the need to check and triple-check my comment for typos!

    • HTTP://WWW.FIVEINTOW.COM

      All typos are allowed in this post and all comments. It’s a rule I just made up.

  • DEB ANDERSON WEAVER

    This is definitely hot fudge sauce! (Sorry, I love that more than caramel!) Love this encouragement!

    Deb Weaver
    thewordweaver.com

    • HTTP://WWW.FIVEINTOW.COM

      What? Nothing is better than caramel. :)