Which garnered a quizzical look from my friend.
“I just did, I guess.”
Of course the answer is a lot more complicated than that. Later that evening I had a chance to really think about it.
I watched my mother, my father, and other relatives cook. When I was very little, my grandmother let me play at cooking by mixing flour and water to make dough and then making shapes with cookie cutters. And my great-grandmother was sometimes called G.G. Pickle because of her scrumptious bread-and-butter pickles.
I read a lot, and food and cooking comes up even in children’s literature. Of course there were those Little House books I keep going on about and they contain lots of practical information. But I also remember specifically reading about food in Nancy Drew (baking – cookies, mostly), the Robin Kane Mysteries (set in California, they always grilled their meals outside) and Mandy (a truly wonderful book about an orphan by Julie Andrews – yes, that Julie Andrews).
Now cookbooks are some of my favorite reading fodder.
Mom let me into the kitchen early. Salads were my responsibility from an early age. I didn’t mind all the cutting and chopping, and while trained chefs would no doubt cringe at my knife skills, I’m pretty dang fast. I started baking sourdough bread in the sixth grade, and was cooking meals by high school.
And I failed, cooking barely – or not even – edible dishes. I experimented. Tried new things. And kept at it until I finally Got how to make some of the things that had defeated me over and over again – like piecrust or enchiladas that don’t get soggy.
Pretty soon I was reading and experimenting and taking classes, and over time have learned more and more. There’s plenty left to learn, too.
This process very much mirrors how I learned to write. As a voracious reader, I first observed others’ writing, both good and bad. My father told me stories, and my parents encouraged my love of books.
Then I dipped my own toe into writing, first with letters to family and then poems and little stories. I have a bag of these letters, and of my first poem, “I Wish I Was a Duck.” My first short story was about a fairy who didn’t believe in little girls.
Pretty soon I was reading about writing, experimenting more with fiction, keeping a journal wedged under my mattress, and churning out school paper after school paper. Practice, practice, practice. Later I wrote a book, read more, took lots of classes and workshops, and rewrote that book several more times. I wrote badly, experimented, and tried new things.
And there’s plenty to left to learn about the craft of writing, too.
How do you know what you know?