Guest Blog, Writing

GUEST BLOG: Write Like a “Top Chef” with Diana Murray

After watching Top Chef season after season, I think I’ve learned a thing or two. And it occurs to me that many of the lessons apply to writing as well. Here are a few:

1. Gooey duck is an acquired taste. (Google it, if you dare.)

WRITING TAKEAWAY:  Editors are always looking for unique concepts. The trick is to write about something unique, without crossing over into the weird zone. Sometimes the solution is to combine something unique with something more popular (like bacon).

2. If you call the dish “Crispy Salmon”, it better be crispy.

WRITING TAKEAWAY: Make sure your title and your first line set up an accurate (and delicious) expectation for the reader.

3. Portions are bigger in Wisconsin.

WRITING TAKEAWAY: You can try to justify your 1200-word picture book, but be aware that most editors will see it as a lack of portion control. There are always exceptions, but if the picture book is fiction,  anywhere between 300 and 700 words seems to be ideal these days. Here is a great website where you can check the word count of published books:  Click on “Quiz Search”.

4. If everyone is making beef, make shrimp.

WRITING TAKEAWAY: If the market is overflowing with dinosaur books, consider writing about flamingos, or something else. (But maybe not gooey ducks.)

5. Don’t shake your fist at critics and tell them you’ve been making risotto for 25 years and everyone just loves it.

WRITING TAKEAWAY: Learn to listen and be open to criticism. Give it some thought before you decide if you agree or disagree and try not to let your emotions get in the way. Which leads me to the next Top Chef lesson…

6. There ain’t no cryin’ in fine dinin’.

WRITING TAKEAWAY: This applies to accepting criticism and to the revision process in general. If something isn’t working in your manuscript, try something else. Or put it away and start from scratch. Don’t get so attached to your manuscripts that you can’t cut and slice as needed.

7. If you put radicchio on the plate, it better serve a purpose.

WRITING TAKEAWAY: Every character and every scene needs to serve the purpose of driving your story–your main point–forward. If Gary the Gooey Duck shows up on page one and then disappears, it’s possible you don’t need him in the story at all.

8. Let the meat rest before you slice it.

WRITING TAKEAWAY: Don’t submit your work too soon. Put it aside. Let it rest. Come back to it with fresh eyes.

9. You can’t win Top Chef with chicken salad.

WRITING TAKEAWAY: Make your story memorable. Is it unique? Hilarious? Does it have a strong emotional core? A clear takeaway message? Give readers a reason to want to return to your picture book again and again.

10. Finally, don’t throw anyone “under the bus”.

WRITING TAKEAWAY: Not sure how this applies to writing, but it seems like good advice.

Diana Murray writes stories and poems for children, usually with a twist of rhyme, and often with a dash of puns. Her debut picture book, NED THE KNITTING PIRATE: A SALTY YARN, will be published by Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan (Spring 2014). Diana was awarded the 2010 SCBWI Barbara Karlin Grant and her credits include poems forthcoming in Spider, Highlights for Children, Highlights High Five, Clubhouse Jr., and the And the Crowd Goes Wild! poetry anthology. She lives in New York City with her husband, two children, and a goldfish named Pickle.

21 thoughts on “GUEST BLOG: Write Like a “Top Chef” with Diana Murray”

  1. OMG this is brilliant! So nice to see this advice in such an understandable (and delicious) format.

  2. Thanks so much, everybody! And thanks to Laura for letting me be her guest. In fact, just today, I had a tasty lunch with Laura at a Korean restaurant! YUM!

  3. Thank you, Diana, for sharing your culinary writing wisdom with us. I’m off to cook supper now and this evening hope to whip a crispy salmon poem with a side of purposeful radicchio.

  4. Thanks, Mirka! Can’t go wrong with marinating, I always say!

    Laura, sounds delish! I have my own personal Top Chef (i.e., my husband) cooking me some scrumptious “Chicken Provencal” for dinner.

    Renee–Thanks! LOL! Hope you overcome your gooey duck difficulties.

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