Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Play Nice, Put Your Heart on a Plate, and Master Your POV: Lessons Learned from Masterchef Season 6 Winners

So I am one of those weird people that don't own a television set. Nor do I subscribe to Hulu or Redbox.

If you're read my blog entries for any length of time, you might recognize that I'm a self-proclaimed foodie who loves cooking and eating. As a homeschool mom and freelance writer, I don't always find the time to cook four star meals. Heck, these days I'm all about 30-MINUTE MEALS. Casseroles, taco salad, and dare I say it, even the occasional frozen pizza.

So perhaps the closest I get to my cooking passion many days is...watching others cook along with my daughter, another fan of quality food. Our TV vice...competitive cooking shows.

The one show we never miss is Masterchef (or the Junior version). We just finished watching season 6 last week and I'm left thinking how much I learned from the contestants about writing.

The show starts with twenty-two home chefs from around the country selected through an audition process which involves making their favorite dish. Yup, from the beginning they need to demonstrate mastery of point of view. Each show starts with one of two types of competitions: the mystery box or the team challenge. At the end of these the losing teams or individuals might face a pressure test.

Mystery Box: Each of the contestants is given a box containing elements ranging from heads of animals to the simple tomato or block of chocolate. The wooden crate may contain one or many items, along with a limited pantry of staples. The key to the mystery box is making the main ingredient shine. One of the biggest dangers the chefs face is failing to keep focus.

One of our biggest challenges as writers is damaging the focus of our story by pulling in too many extraneous elements. What do we have that doesn't need to be there? Just because we feel emotionally connected to a scene doesn't mean its working.

Team Challenge: The restaurant challenge where Gordon Ramsey expedites is a terrifying feat. Other "tests" might include: serving at a wedding, cooking for top chefs in the business, or cooking at a large venue for a crowd (ballgames, state fair, etc).

Many chefs have burned their relationships with other contestants during these team challenges. Key mistakes include: not pulling your weight, complaining too much, acting as a prima donna, letting stress get the better of you, or throwing your teammates under the bus.

We often view writing as an individual job and forget the calling to be part of a team. Whether its your publishing company, agency home, or just the general community of writers, God hasn't called us to do this alone. Let's keep up positive relationships with others and grow in humility, looking to others before ourselves. Cheer on your fellow agency mate when she gets that trilogy contract, even though you've been waiting for years for your opportunity.

Throughout the teamwork, intense pressure of nearly impossible tasks (making as many perfect eggs as you can in ten minutes or demonstrating a bakery-ready Chocolate Malt Cake, normally mastered in months, in one try), and surprises thrown their way two contestants soared to the top this season.

The very things that pulled them to the head of the pack are the same things that can grow us in our writing careers.

First, let's look at Derrick Peltz.

Derrick is a drummer from Florida who began cooking at home for friends and his girlfriend. One of Derrick's main motivations was to make his mother proud.

Peltz says of himself: "I've always been the scrappy one on the yard fighting to prove myself. I learned something new on this journey! You don't have to be first place to win! Like I said before, the reward is in the journey and I have never felt so accomplished in my life."

Derrick proved himself as a team captain, often willing to step up to the plate though this sense of leadership was on occasion to his detriment.

Known for his elegant dishes, Peltz was a frequent mystery box winner who even made it to the top three making a dish with a food he despised (blue cheese).

What can a writer learn from Derrick?

1) Put your best presentation forward: Whether garnishing his custard with edible flowers during a dessert challenge or adding a swirl of basil oil to his plate, Derrick gained points for gorgeous plating, proving once again the details matter.

Little things matter. Its all the small garnishes that make a great book. Its that extra once over for grammar and spelling (even the fourteenth time) that can make the difference for a polished manuscript. Careful choosing of just the right word in a descriptor can create an unforgettable image in your reader's mind that leaves them wanting more.

2) Don't fear the pressure: Derrick was a frequent participant in the intense pressure tests. He didn't seem phased even when another contestant taunted him from the balcony while he was cooking. He kept his focus during even the strongest challenges. This season the viewers saw both temper tantrums and crying jags, yet Derrick kept calm and collected.

Its no secret that Christian publishing is experiencing a bit of a lull right now. The numbers of acquisitions are not always encouraging. Even after publication, many authors face the challenge of getting a contract again. And the pressures don't lessen after publication. Intense deadlines, discouraging edits, and so many more challenges face us as writers at every stage. We must remain calm and collected.

The answer to our pressure in writing and life:
“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Isaiah 26:3).

Keep our mind fixed on Jesus. Trust him with our career, with our dreams with our writing. Live in His peace instead of the world's pressure cooker.

3) The reward is in the journey: From Derrick's own words, the reward was in the journey. The hug and congratulations shared between him and the winning contestant seemed genuine. He was gracious whenever he discussed the winner. Though he dreamed of being in first place, he was able to reimagine his journey to find the joy in the ride.

We need to remember that more than a destination, writing is a journey. We'll never truly arrive, because there is always a next hurdle. Our goal is to keep going at the task ahead that someday we may hear good and faithful servant in all our life, including our writing.

Second, let's look at Season 6 winner, Claudia Sandoval.

Claudia was a single mother from California with a close-knit extended family. Her brand of Mexican cooking was homestyle, yet elevated. She was known for her tenacity which paid off with a win of the title, Master Chef.

Her advice to her daughter was: "I hope you never change your humility, your noble heart, and that you NEVER forget that if you work hard enough, Dreams DO come true."

1) Master your point of view: One lesson Claudia had down-pat was putting herself on the plate every time she served a meal. In the finale, she turned tamales, viewed as ordinary street truck food into a flavorful, elevated dish. In another challenge, Claudia turned a simple tomato into a beautiful food tart.

Mastering your view can turn the simplest of fare into something Michelin-star worthy. When you stick close to your roots and write to your heart, you put on a page the truest version of yourself.

2) Don't take the easy out: Claudia was offered an opportunity to save herself during two key points in the competition. She refused, telling Chef Gordon who called her "crazy" that she needed to win based on her own merits.

Are you taking the easy out in your writing career? Are you willing to perhaps pursue publication options before you are ready rather than waiting in a changing market? Are you putting in the work to grow in your career? The hardest paths yield the most reward. 

3) God's dreams for us DO come true: Don't forget that God has a plan for you that's much better than anything you can dream or imagine. It is to give you a future and a hope. A heavenly future. Just  a single mum sharing a bed with her daughter in a tiny apartment, Sandoval's reality was transformed when she won the title of Masterchef, the prize money, and a cookbook with her name on it we are changed by the names God calls us by. We have been translated from the earthly kingdom to the heavenly and we are his beloved, his children. We have a richer inheritance than we can imagine in heaven. Does it color our writing life? Oh, yes! It changes everything. Our hope in Christ enables us to keep dreaming, a dream higher than our own. It allows us to put down our dreams when they are not honoring to Christ, or even just not the best he has for us. For we know he has a better dream for us than we can imagine. A dream that ends in a heavenly kingdom.


Jeanne Takenaka said...

You bring some great points into focus, Julia. Well done! I've never watched Master Chefs, but you've got me curious now. :) We don't own a television, subscribe to Nefflix or anything else either. So, I know very little about what's on television. That's mostly a good thing. :)

I loved this: "we are changed by the names God calls us by." When we embrace God's name for us, we can move in confidence to fulfill all He has for us. Beautiful!

Julia M. Reffner said...

Thanks, Jeanne. I agree, its mostly a good thing although I'll admit there are other distractions like FB & Pinterest than can snag me if I'm not careful. I look forward to continuing to watch God work in your writing life.

Unknown said...

"Are you taking the easy out in your writing career? Are you willing to perhaps pursue publication options before you are ready rather than waiting in a changing market? Are you putting in the work to grow in your career? The hardest paths yield the most reward."

You cut me to the core here. It is hard to wait, to practice the patience I chide to my own kids. I know what is in my heart to write and it is not on the CBA radar. Sometimes I waffle and think, "I could just plunk out something an agent would agree to read." But it's not what God has put in my heart.

Thank you for the reminder. God's timing is NOT my own and I won't give up on Him or my dream.

Julia M. Reffner said...

Waiting is such a hard journey, in writing and in life! Saying a prayer for you and your writing dream. Look forward to watching God's plans for you continue to unfold.