June 12, 2015

The Wisdom of Ratatouille

I almost didn’t write a post this week. My manuscript needs my attention now, and it’s hard to find time to write. When I do scrounge together a few minutes my scrappy little novel calls my name. I significantly revised the first fifty pages and resubmitted them to the potential agent (for a recap of why see this post). I’m actually really happy with what I did in those edits, and even if the agent still doesn’t decide to take the leap and read the rest of my novel I think he did me a great service by pointing out what could be changed to make my story more intriguing and readable from the get go.

But…making those major changes caused reverberations throughout the rest of the book, and I now have some pretty substantial editing that I need to do so that the beginning of the story jives with the end. I want to get the work done fairly quickly because 1) I don’t want to check in with the agent and have him request the rest of the manuscript and not have it ready to go, and 2) in all honesty I have been working on this book for more than a year and a half. I’m ready for a new story, but I can’t let this one go until it’s ready to see print whether that be through an agent or through self-publishing. So I am working diligently on these edits, doing the best I can to do right by my manuscript.

Yet, throughout this whole book-writing process there has been a voice in the back of my head telling me that all the time and effort I’ve expended on the book isn’t worth it. It’s been especially loud these last few weeks since I felt like my book was in a good place and now it’s under major renovation again. The dreaded voice has been getting louder. It tells me to just shelve the project and move on. But I won’t. No way. I am getting this sucker done, and I am doing it to the best of my abilities.

So I told my inner critic to go watch Ratatouille. You know that Disney movie about the rat that becomes a world class chef in Paris? Why? Because not only is it about following your dreams against major odds (and it takes place in one of my favorite cities in the world), but it also has a great message about the role of the critic when it comes to pursuing creative endeavors. That message is eloquently summarized by the pretentious restaurant critic Anton Ego in a monologue toward the end of the movie. Anton says many insightful things, but the thing that sticks with me is this: “The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends.” And the first friend it needs, as far as I can tell, is the creator herself.

So I’m telling my inner critic to shut it and let me get on with my story. While I get to work I’ll leave you with the simple, brilliant words of Mr. Ego below.

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends.

Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon, hungry for more.


Image credit: NotTelevision

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