Recipes for Aspiring Writers

By Melissa Knox-Raab

For aspiring writers, few things could be better than miserable or even terrifying moments, moments like those many of us have experienced in pandemic times. Turning life’s lemons into lemonade is never easy, but here are five tips for aspiring writers:

(1) Keep a handwritten journal by your bedside and write in it when you wake up—especially when you wake up at four a.m.

(2) Carry around a little notebook to capture any thought you imagine you’re going to remember later—you won’t. A cell phone will do, but there’s something about the little notebook that inspires. David Sedaris has an amusing essay on this, on which he elaborates here.

(3) Write a set amount daily; 600-800 words is a good goal.

(4) Never judge what you are writing as you write. Dreams, rages, moments of despair—dump those thoughts in your journal. Enjoy whining. You can often turn a temper tantrum into an intriguing train of thought when you’ve cooled down.

(5) Borrow from writers who appeal to you in order to make something of that hodgepodge in your journal. Wordsworth thought of poetry as the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling,” but Coleridge, whose poetry often fit that description, offered another formula: “emotion recollected in tranquility.” I find both methods useful. The French writer Jules Renard remarked: “Look for the ridiculous in everything and you will find it.” He’s right.


You’ve got to keep up your strength while writing. Here’s a fun one. You’ll need a wok. All items can be purchased at the Asian store near the university at Viehofer Platz:

  • Rice noodles
  • Soy sauce
  • Sesame oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Black rice vinegar
  • Shao Hsing Rice wine
  • Spicy black bean sauce
  • Tofu
  • A chili pepper or two, depending on how hot you like your food
  • Crushed garlic—lots
  • Grated ginger—as much as you like
  • Sesame seeds
  • Sugar
  • Cornstarch
  • Vegetables of your choice—bok choy and snow peas are some good choices

(1) Cut and drain the tofu. Place on clean kitchen towels and cover.

(2) Wash and slice vegetables.

(3) Sprinkle a little cornstarch over the tofu.

Put about two tablespoons of peanut oil in the hot wok. Add tofu as soon as the oil is hot; let fry on high heat for a few minutes and then turn over. When it looks crispy, remove and set on paper towels to drain.

Add a little more peanut oil to the pan. Stir in crushed garlic, grated ginger, and vegetables. Stir fry for a few minutes. Remove from heat. Add tofu.

Throw a package of rice noodles into boiling, salted water. Depending on how thick they are, they’ll need five to ten minutes. Follow package instructions. Drain, rinse, and add to the vegetables and tofu in the wok.

In a small saucepan, combine about a half a cup of the rice wine, a tablespoon or two of the black rice vinegar, a shake or three of the sesame oil, about third of a cup of soy sauce, several tablespoons of the black bean sauce, a chopped chili or two, and a tablespoon or more of sugar. Put on high heat, stirring, and when it’s just boiling, pour it over your rice-tofu-veggie mixture. Sprinkle on a handful of sesame seeds.


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