Mise en place for writers

Oct 3, 2017 | Better Writing

A professional kitchen during service looks like frantic chaos. Ticket printers churn out tickets. People yell questions and demands and answers back and forth. Everyone moves as fast as they can in a confined space filled with very hot things.

This doesn’t happen all the time. It only happens during that time of the day when the restaurant is serving patrons at a rapid rate. The rest of the time things are relatively quiet. One of the reasons that people can do so much work so quickly during service is a concept called mise en place.

Mise En Place

Mise en place is a term of art in a professional kitchen. It’s French for “put in place.” It means more than that, though.

To quote celebrity chef Thomas Keller, “When you’re a cook, you go into service with mise en place, everything you need for a successful service.”

In other words, if you’re a chef, you get everything you can ready ahead of time. Then, when it’s time to do that cooking thing that chefs do, you can do it without a break and without hunting for things. My Aunt Dot was a short-order cook and she did the same thing, only she didn’t have a French term for it. If you’re a writer, you should use the concept to get the most out of your writing time.

Mise En Place for Writers

There’s a lot that goes into cooking besides the actual cooking. You must make sure you have all the ingredients you need. You should prepare some of them, slicing tomatoes or chopping onions so you don’t have to take time to do that during service. And you need to know where everything is so that you can use them when you need to.

There’s a lot that goes into writing that isn’t writing, too. There’s research and planning and fact-checking. But, when it’s time to write, it’s time to write.

Making This Work for You

When it’s time to write, that’s what you should do. Nothing else. There is a time for doing your research and making sure there’s ink in your printer cartridge and gathering your notes. But that time is not writing time.

When it’s time to write, you should be able to sit down or stand up and write. Use the time when you’re not writing to do all the other things that go into your project. If you do it right, you can put in large chunks of what Cal Newport calls “deep work.”

Bottom Line

You’ll be a more productive writer if you do everything ahead of time so that you can do nothing but write for as long as you can.

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