I watch cooking shows from time to time and a term I’ve picked up is mise en place. It means put in place, and it’s the preparation chefs do before they begin cooking to make themselves more organized and efficient. They know in advance what they’ll be using and how they’ll be using it and can then concentrate solely on the actual process of cooking. They have their vegetables chopped, spices set out and measured, utensils and pots arranged within easy reach. This prevents them from cooking the way I normally do, scrambling for an ingredient I don’t have or realizing the utensil I need is in the dishwasher, dirty.
I started to think about mise en place in relation to my writing as a way to focus. Could I concentrate only on what I’m working on without becoming distracted by other projects or even other aspects of the current project? I’ve often claimed that I have writer’s ADD, with my mind chasing after squirrels and birds. New ideas pop up that are bright and shiny compared to the one I’ve been staring at for hours. Could I get organized enough, physically and mentally, to follow through without losing my train of thought?
Mise en place for writers may be difficult physically. Organizing a work space to be conducive to writing is definitely possible. And just as cooking in a clean kitchen is preferable, so is writing on a desk not piled high with distractions. But writers need to be able to write anywhere. We have random ideas and plot breakthroughs at stop lights. We write on planes, during day job lunch hours, in doctor’s waiting rooms. To always be physically ready to write, the important thing is to keep the necessary tools with us: notebooks, pens, tablet or laptop or even a flash drive.
Plotting (or pantsing, and that’s not the point to debate here) is another issue. Whether we outline or just wing it, we still need to know some basic things. We need to know our characters and their GMCs. We better know our setting. And a basic plot idea is always a good thing to know. When we sit down each day to write, we can be more organized and efficient if we know who we will be focusing on and what they’ll be doing. If you know your theme and you’re incorporating motifs into the story, be aware of them. We need to keep our minds from wandering to questionable edits of what we wrote yesterday or research we need to do for tomorrow, and just focus on what we’re writing today.
We can be specific in our planning, but still flexible while writing. Just as a recipe calls for a certain amount of spice, if it needs a little more or less, you adjust it. If you undercook the salmon, you put it back on the heat for a minute. The same holds true for writing. You work according to your plan, but if something in the story needs adjusting, change it. Know your original ingredients and how they’ll be used, but replace them if necessary. Just have them laid out and ready to use before you start writing each day.