Feature

The Multiple Pots on the Stove Method

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This is a visual representation of how I felt this past summer before my second book’s release.

[If you’re wondering what I’m cooking, it’s ramen (*see Author’s note below). Because every person in my family must have their own pot of ramen].

This is what I call having “multiple pots on the stove,” which upon googling, doesn’t seem to be the idiom that I thought it was. Apparently, the actual idiom is having “a lot of irons in the fire,” but since my forge wasn’t working, this will just have to do. Pretty much it means, juggling different activities—or in my case, writing-related projects—at once.

Back when I first starting writing, I was not a multiple pots cooker (you just need hot water for cup ramen har har). I was wholly a believer in the image of the writer going into a cave and pouring their soul into a single project, emerging gloriously a few weeks later with a beautiful finished work of art. Every time I worked on a project, I went through the process of first brainstorming, then drafting, then revising etcetera until the book was good enough to show friends & family and/or post anonymously on Figment (do you guys remember Figment??) Not that this is bad. In fact, this was my process and it worked for me! It also helped me learn how to finish projects—first short stories, then later novels. It taught me how to write. (Side tip: if you’re ever feeling the dregs of a long novel, wallowing in the seeming impossibility of getting to the end, write a flash fiction piece or short story just to remind yourself that you can finish a thing and be damn proud of it).

Fast-forward to this past summer when I realized the single-project system wasn’t working for me anymore. Maybe it’s that I was changing as a person. I wanted to try for all the things that I was too afraid to try for before, out of fear of failure. In one of my books, the heroine says, “A true wish is something that if it never came true, it might break your heart.” For so long, I was afraid to make a true wish. After all, when you’ve been in publishing long enough, you’ve had your heart broken many times (you can’t help it. Writers write from the heart). But like my heroine, I came to the realization that it’s better to take the leap, make the wish, instead of letting the fear of failure stop me.

More than that—and maybe this came with perspective of having been published now for two years—why make 1 wish? Why not 5? Why not 20? Of course, some wishes will matter more than others (and that’s totally fine. It should be that way), but why limit yourself? What’s that famous quote? Reach for the moon, fall amongst the stars.

And so, I took my own advice. I opened an old document of project I’d put on hold because I “didn’t think I was ready to write it.” I wrote up proposals and sent them to my agent. When opportunities came knocking, I jumped at them with enthusiasm and goodwill. I looked up writing residency opportunities. I looked at short story magazines to submit to. I acted as if my writing life was on a forward-moving track, and guess what—it began to feel like it was.

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Anyway, back to my stove analogy (or is it stoves??) You can set one project to a low burner, while turning up the heat on another. You can cook ramen where the noodles crunch in your teeth, or you can wait ‘til they’re all soggy (hey, no judging!). Maybe you want to cook Shin ramen or Sapporo Ichiban (my FAVE). Or maybe you have to throw out an entire pot and start all over again. The important part is that you have several fires going at once, which means, while some might dim, others will always be burning brightly.

You can cook all the ramen you want! Just remember to feed me the stories you finish.

*Author’s Note: Korean American households love our instant ramen.

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