Writing is Like Making Sauerkraut

I just finished with some of the prep work for another batch of sauerkraut. Rachel enjoys making it almost as much as she enjoys eating it, and of course I enjoy the fruits, as it were, of that labor too. As I was meditatively squishing the pile of leaves and other vegetable oddments, well salted and oozing their liquid, I found my mind drifting toward the craft of writing.

I’m in the midst of building a new story (and I use that term “building” deliberately), and because of the way that I iterate over each of its pieces, I find that the process very much resembles the making of sauerkraut:

  • The cutting of the veggies.
    You trim and slice the vegetables, choosing the bits to remove and cutting the pieces that remain into bite-sized morsels. This is much like the process of writing the first draft, in which you are going for bulk and roughly cutting the ideas into sentences, paragraphs, scenes and chapters.
  • The building of layers and the salting of those layers.
    You begin laying vegetables into the big bowl, alternating with spoonfuls of salt. This actually goes in parallel with the above step, so I liken this to the process of creating the story from the raw materials as you go. It’s still a rough draft, but the basics are there.
  • The squishing of the veggies.
    This is what I do, as it requires a steady, strong grip and a certain placid calm. This is very much like the art of rewriting, in that the best frame of mind is a meditative one. You are going to be reducing the size of the pile of veggies, and you will see a lot of the desired liquid appear at the bottom of the bowl. This is the juice of the story, and it tells you that the thing is going to ferment quite nicely.

Maybe the analogy is rough. In fact, it is pretty rough. But the emotional states, the frame of mind that I’m in when I’m writing, remind me very much of what it feels like for me to write. I don’t write it all in one go, but instead build in layers, squishing and mashing and folding and packing. What I want to have at the end is a well-fermented nutriment for the mind that will keep and will be enjoyed for a long time to come.

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