Bourdain On Writing

I’ve been listening to lots of old Bourdain interviews and episodes. This re-run of a 2016 Fresh Air interview caught my ear, specifically the excerpt below.

DAVIES: Now, the book and the article is this, like, grab-your-attention look at things you don’t know about what goes on inside the restaurant and all kinds of things. But, I mean, it’s – the writing is powerful. Had you been writing while you were cooking? Creative workshops, creative writing classes?

BOURDAIN: I had done a writer’s workshop with Gordon Lish, the notorious creative writing teacher, at one point many years earlier. But I’d never actually written. I was – I never had the time to sit there in my garret, you know, writing unpublished novels. I just didn’t have the time, and I think to a great extent, the reason “Kitchen Confidential” sounds like it does is I just did not have the luxury or the burden of a lot of time to sit around and contemplate the mysteries of the universe. I had to wake up at 5 o’clock in the morning, write for an hour and a half. And then I had to go to work a real job. So I – here I was. It was liberating in the sense that I had no time to think about what I was writing. And I certainly had no customer or reader in mind because I was quite sure no one would ever read it. That was, in many ways, a very liberating place to be. And I’ve kind of tried to stick with that business model since.

Read that line again: “I had no time to think about what I was writing.” This is definitely why Kitchen Confidential is so gripping. And “I was quite sure no one would ever read it.”

I often meet people who want to write but are stopped short by the fear of wondering if anyone will ever read it — but the point is to write for one’s own self, not for an audience. Not that I would ever equate my writing style to Bourdain’s (he is much more direct and, frankly, interesting), but I am often asked “How long do you spend writing?” or “How do you decide what your audience wants to hear?” I am usually stumped when I’m asked this. I usually say “about 20-30 minutes, when something is stuck in my head and I need to get it out.” My hope with every post is that 1) I crystalize a thought in my mind through the process of writing it and 2) that at least one reader finds value in it. To refer to an older post and quote the great Epicurus, “I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other.”