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Saturday, September 17, 2016


What a Writer Can Learn From Watching “Chopped”

A "Chopped"-inspired apple chutney.

The show has been on the Food Network for many years, but I only started tuning in this past summer. Now, I’m obsessed. While I don’t normally watch reality television shows, this one draws me in for some reason. And it has inspired me to be a better cook. Watching the chefs stumble around the “Chopped” kitchen trying to make an entrée out of items like octopus, graham crackers, mayonnaise, and dried cherries makes my nightly forays into the kitchen seem like a breeze, and I’ve learned some great cooking techniques. While watching the Teen Tournament semifinal episode this week, I started thinking about how the lessons the chefs learn on the show can also hold true for writers. See below for some examples.

Sometimes, you have to step outside of your comfort zone. Most of the contestants on “Chopped” and “Chopped Junior” are used to cooking—that’s where they find their happy place. But not all of them are used to competing against three other contestants with a ticking clock, people running all over the kitchen, a competitor snatching all the heavy cream out of the refrigerator before they can get to it, etc. These obstacles can create a whole new dynamic. Writers also need to step out of their comfort zones. Attend conferences, find a critique group, do something daring with a chapter that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. You’ll be amazed at what you can do with a change of scenery.

Don’t be afraid to bring the heat. Sometimes the judges call out contestants for not using enough salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder, or other spices. Bland cooking is not going to advance you to the next level, and neither is mundane writing. I’ve been guilty of it myself, especially when it comes to business or service articles. There’s no reason why you can’t put a little personality into every piece of your writing. Write an intriguing lead, or outline the article in a way that the reader isn’t expecting to spice things up a bit.

Listen to constructive criticism and use it to improve your craft. On “Chopped,” when a judge tells you something you need to work on, you’d better make sure you take it to heart in the next round or risk being chopped. You served undercooked meat? Don’t do it again. You served an appetizer that was weighed down with a soggy sauce? Lighten up on the ingredients next time. In the same token, if you are paying for a critique of your work at a conference, consider the feedback you’ve received. While we all know writing is subjective, much like cooking, there are usually a few grains of the truth in the criticism that you need to hear. The same goes if you’ve turned something into an editor and they have notes for your next assignment. Don’t be that writer who refuses to listen to advice—it will get you nowhere fast.

You are never too old (or young!) to follow your dreams. I’ve seen contestants on “Chopped” who left completely different professions to follow their cooking dreams, and I’ve also seen kids as young as 7 or 8 years of age whipping up an entrée I’ve only seen in some of the fanciest restaurants. Sometimes they have a compelling story that led them to cooking—sometimes it’s just a vocation they’ve always been passionate about. Feel that way about writing? Take it from these chefs. You’re never too old to be a published writer. Instead of sweating over the stove, sweat over your computer and get to work.

And don’t forget to eat some yummy food along the way to give you sustenance.

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who also enjoys a good shrimp taco whenever she can find one, but her specialty is homemade chocolate chip cookies. Visit her website at to learn more about her writing projects.

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Blogger Judy H said...

I love Chopped and watch it in binges. But I never thought about it in this context. Great parallels. Thanks.

5:29 AM  
Blogger Sioux said...

Renee--I love "Chopped" and also love the reminders/advice you gave us. (Those cooks do amazing things with weird combinations of ingredients.)

3:05 PM  
Blogger Margo Dill said...

Katie and I watch CUPCAKE WARS and CAKE WARS--also Food Network competition shows, and the judges seem very similar to what you are describing. I love how you made the parallels to writing. Thanks!

5:56 AM  
Blogger ~* Connie L. Smith *~ said...

As a writer and a Chopped fan, I was sooo interested in reading this article! Now I want to look through your posts and see what else you've had to say :) Any more Food Network connections I should know about???


11:34 AM  

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