Becoming a Writer

Photo credit; THOR

It’s funny how things work out. You pick up a book in a bookstore or a friend presses you to read something, “Hey, I KNOW you’ll love this.”

You read the words on the page and suddenly you’re soaring above your bedroom ceiling, your sorryass childhood forgotten, your past mistakes and your current cares evaporate, like rain splashing on a steaming hot summer sidewalk.

You learn about a larger world when writers release their words into the Universe. As I think of authors letting go of their words, I envision an endless field of dandelions, as far as the horizon. When the wind whips through the field, each fuzzy parachute bursts into the air, carrying nourishment for the tiny seeds.

Photo credit: Terence J. Sullivan

I’ve always hungered for the written word, in the same way I hunger for food at certain times of the day and night.

That’s how I became a writer, actually. Being nourished by tiny seeds, in the form of words and books. I still feel a bit odd saying, “Oh, I am a writer,” like it’s something frivolous (and that’s one reason I never gave myself permission to do it on a regular basis).

Like delighting in a good wine, some writing encourages a slowing down, taking slow sips, musing on the experience, reveling in combinations of words and mental flavors. Of course, writing – when it’s good – and not just writing about food – will do that for you. Good writing creates balance.

It all began many years ago, you see, even before I discovered the works of M. F. K. Fisher,* this desire of mine to share something with the world by writing about it.  But it took Fisher’s crisp, clean, and – yes – romantic writing to spur me to REALLY write, not just the sporadic piece when the Muse struck. Which wasn’t often.

I read every one of Fisher’s books. Her work ultimately deals with the hungers you and I face as we make our way through the messiness and joys of life. And she, more than anything else – other than a bout with a life-threatening illness – forced me to step out of yearning into doing.

Which, for me, took the form of trying to express something on paper (even if it took the torturous route from keyboard to screen to file to printer, the words still ended up on paper.)

Lately, after several years of writing, striving to become better at this craft, I’ve realized a few things about the writing life, about which many writers far better and more successful than I will ever be have also weighed in.

First  of all, it’s so easy to get caught up in the rat race, even if your commute demands no more than ten minutes, from bed to closet to desk. Facebook, Twitter, whatever, all filled with gloatings and crowings. People block other people because of perceived slights that never happened, except in their over-caffeinated minds.

And then there are conferences, where you cannot wear your bathrobe and must actually try to pull together a suit of clothes that your mother would approve of, where everybody eyes name tags with networking in mind and scurries about like ants after their hill’s been kicked by an enraged bull.

Finally, and this is the worst, for creativity dies when strapped into the strait-jacket of the brand, the platform:  “What’s your brand, what’s your platform?” Somebody once asked me that, suggesting rather snidely that I didn’t have one.

Well, that’s OK. I’m just a writer who finds the whole world full of so many things I don’t know, but I certainly am going to find out, you can be sure of that.

Let’s end with an apropos quote from Henry Miller: “I was and still am interested in everything.”**


*Look over this list of M. F. K. Fisher’s books and, if you’ve got a free moment or two this week, indulge yourself. You’ll understand just how it’s possible to become a writer. Fisher wrote mostly about food, but she did not like to be called a food writer. And I don’t blame her; her work goes far beyond the formulaic writing of the so-called women’s pages, which still often appears with a gushing description of a recipe.

  • Serve It Forth (Harper 1937) ISBN 0865473692
  • Touch and Go (Harper and Brothers 1939) (with Dillwyn Parrish under the psudonym Victoria Berne)
  • Consider the Oyster (Duell, Sloan and Pierce 1941) ISBN 0865473358
  • How to Cook a Wolf (Duell, Sloan and Pierce 1942) ISBN 0865473366
  • The Gastronomical Me (Duell, Sloan and Pierce 1943) ISBN 0865473928
  • Here Let Us Feast, A Book of Banquets (Viking 1946) ISBN 0865472068
  • Not Now but Now (Viking 1947) ISBN 0865470723
  • An Alphabet for Gourmets (Viking 1949) ISBN 0865473919
  • The Physiology of Taste [translator] (Limited Editions Club 1949) ISBN 9781582431031
  • The Art of Eating (MacMillan 1954) ISBN 0394713990
  • A Cordial Water: A Garland of Odd & Old Receipts to Assuage the Ills of Man or Beast (Little Brown 1961) ISBN 0865470637
  • The Story of Wine in California (University of California Press 1962) ISBN 9110349340
  • Map of Another Town: A Memoir of Provence (Little Brown 1964) ISBN 8014051591
  • Recipes: The Cooking of Provincial France (Time-Life Books 1968) [reprinted in 1969 as The Cooking of Provincial France] ISBN
  • With Bold Knife and Fork (Putnam 1969) ISBN 0399503978
  • Among Friends (Knopf 1971) ISBN 0865471169
  • A Considerable Town (Knopf 1978) ISBN 0394427114
  • Not a Station but a Place (Synergistic Press 1979) ISBN 0912184027
  • As They Were (Knopf 1982) ISBN 0394713486
  • Sister Age (Vintage 1983) ISBN 0394723856.
  • Spirits of the Valley (Targ Editions 1985)
  • Fine Preserving: M.F.K. Fisher’s Annotated Edition of Catherine Plagemann’s Cookbook (Aris Books 1986) ISBN 0671630652
  • Dubious Honors (North Point Press 1988) ISBN 0865473188
  • The Boss Dog: A Story of Provence (Yolla Bolly Press 1990) ISBN 0865474656
  • Long Ago in France: The Years in Dijon (Prentice Hall 1991) ISBN 0139295488
  • To Begin Again: Stories and Memoirs 1908-1929 (Pantheon 1992) ISBN 0679415769
  • Stay Me, Oh Comfort Me: Journals and Stories 1933-1941 (Pantheon 1993) ISBN 0679758259
  • Last House: Reflections, Dreams and Observations 1943-1991 (Pantheon 1995) ISBN 0679774114
  • Aphorisms of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin from His Work, The Physiology of Taste (1998)
  • A Life in Letters (Counterpoint 1998) ISBN 1887178464
  • From the Journals of M.F.K. Fisher (Pantheon 1999) ISBN 0375708073
  • Two Kitchens in Provence (Yolla Bolly Press 1999)
  • Home Cooking: An Excerpt from a Letter to Eleanor Friede, December, 1970 (Weatherford Press 2000)

(Bibliography listed in Wikipedia entry on M.F.K. Fisher)

**Miller, Henry. Henry Miller on Writing, p. 126.

© 2012 C. Bertelsen



  • More good Stuff, Cindy. An inspiration to folks like me.


  • Good morning, Beth. I think you will love Sister Age, at least the Foreward, because it reminds me of your current big project.


  • Hello Leo, I’m going to dive into “The Reunion” right now! You never told me about that, so surprising. But not really, you know. Thank you for the kind words, as always.


  • Ah yes, Gary, Sister Age. I just pulled it off my shelf and am settling down to read it again, from a slightly different perspective, which naturally occurs when years have gone by!


  • Amazing. I have never heard of MFK and looked her up on line and am fascinated. Last year I remember passing her home in St Helena and might have even taken it’s picture, will check. Ann Lamont wrote a forward for her ” A Life in Letters,” how impressive. Thanks for the heads up on this author.


  • Bonjour, Sans Cravat! I have not thought of “Sister Age” in a dog’s age and you reminded me not only of its stunning introduction about Ursula von Ott but that Mary Frances wrote the story, “The Reunion” about me. I was so thrilled, I couldn’t speak when she told me she had written the story for me. In it, I am Lucien Revenant (she kept the initials of my first and last names). Quel thrill. I miss her every day. Do you know next month (22 June) marks the 20th anniversary of her journeying on? I am working on a little essay about her house. I hope I can finish it in time! Leo


  • This is a wonderful piece, Cindy! It has brought me so much joy this morning reading it. I read it three times! And so needed, don’t you think, as I still feel MF’s work is not nearly as well-known as it deserves to be. You have hit one out of the ballpark again! I just love your writing!! (P.S. I hope you don’t mind — I posted this on Facebook.


  • I, too, have read all of MFK Fisher — and, oddly enough, my favorite book was not about food. “Sister Age” is a remarkable book, and not just for those of who have (or are about to) come face-to-face with the downside of longevity.


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