Sex, Food, Travel: My Writing Teachers

One thing you’ll notice is that while I’m committed to writing about the writing process, I also write about sex, food, and travel. Have no doubt, these three mirror the writing process so well that in doing them we learn better writing techniques.

I’ll never forget teaching sex ed to a class made up of predominantly middle school boys. This was the award winning Our Whole Lives: Lifespan Sexuality Education program. This wasn’t salacious stuff. It was fact based and age appropriate with information aimed at ensuring kids knew about their own bodies and would eventually be able to make informed decisions down the road.

One day, while standing in front of the class, I had a light bulb moment that deconstructing the act of sexual intercourse was almost exactly like mapping out a literary plotline. Of course I immediately announced this to the class. The kids looked both intrigued and horrified.

“The boys will never see English the same way again,” said one of my co-teachers, a nurse.  

There you have it. Sex is writing. Writing is sex.

They don’t call it rising action and a climax for nothing. So, if you’re struggling with your writing, keep in mind that it has a biological basis. As Lisa Cron describes in Wired for Story, our brains are even designed for it.

But sex isn’t the only place with a writing overlap. Have you ever noticed how the cooking process with all its ingredients, rules that can’t be broken (sometimes), and kitchen tools also mirrors the writing process?

After many years of experimental cooking, it dawned on me that I fake a lot about following a recipe because I don’t always understand the instructions: julienne the carrots, braise the meat, etc. Okay, so I get those now because I’ve taken classes and learned. But just following a recipe isn’t always enough to create a great meal.

Writing is no different. We think we know what we’re doing until we get knee-deep into a vat of Coq Au Vin or a freakin’ 26 Chapter book and realize we are so out of our depth that we might as well order takeout and get drunk.

You can certainly do that, but it won’t get you any closer to eating or finishing that book. Instead we need to go back to the beginning, break steps down, take some classes, or investigate on the internet. Whatever works so we don’t end up burning dinner or trashing our own prose. In time we learn to see both cooking and writing as a craft that can be learned.

And then there’s travel.

When I signed up to take MatadorU’s travel writing program back in 2011, I had no idea that there was a difference between travel writing and travel journalism. Or that learning how to write about travel well could impact my other writing. But time and again, I’d come back to my travel writing skills as a basis for good writing in all genres. Processing a new destination with a lens that is unbiased and honest is an excellent lesson in general writing, too.

So, think about it. What other activities or experiences do you engage in that could easily translate into the writing process? Don’t underestimate those activities as transferable teaching tools. They don’t call it the craft of writing for nothing.

Comment below on ways that you can take skills from other arts, business, or even science and apply them to your writing.