In Praise of the Palate Cleanser

Whether it's a refreshing sorbet, a sliver of gari (that pickled ginger business that comes with your sushi), or a nibble of parsley, a palate cleanser refreshes the mouth to allow the diner to get back to the business of savoring the flavor of the meal's next course.

Although I've long been an advocate of the "laser-like focus" approach to a publishing career, I've discovered that the palate cleanser can serve the writer just as well. Reading and studying craft outside one's usual niche is broadening and healthy, and taking a shot at writing something completely different stretches creative muscles and frees us from whatever editorial edicts, genre or reader expectations we're usually forced to live by.

I've taken a break this past week and done just that, and I'm having great fun. It's strange and scary, being creative for creativity's sake, writing in a market where I've seen no successes on a project that could well be as viable as an albino alligator in the wild. It reminds me of the heady pleasures of bygone days, when I wrote only to please myself. That's not to say I wouldn't love it if it turned out to be something that could be commercially successful, but I'm enjoying the writing process so much that I'm sure it will bring a fresh new attitude to the romantic suspense novels for which I'm best known and help to make my storytelling more creative.

So the next time your favorite author goes off the tracks to try something new when you wish he/she would just get back to what it is that you love reading, you might trying cutting him or her a little slack. Better to allow a little palate cleansing (you might even learn to love the sorbet!) than to let a talent stagnate, and an imagination die a tepid death.

Today's question for discussion: What do you do to keep your creativity fresh? Do you work in another art form (paints or music, gardening), write plays, poetry, or nonfiction, or try your hand in different genres? How do you prevent this diversification from turning into a splintering of focus?


I talk about the topic with people of diverse backgrounds.

I find readers from diverse backgrounds to read early drafts of my columns and books.

I read articles and books that address similar issues but are intended for different audiences than mine. For example, when I'm writing about the challenges patients face when trying to find happiness despite the uncertainty of their recovery, I might read about healthy people (even super-healthy people such as elite athletes) coping with uncertainty having nothing to do with their physical well-being.
Jeanna Thornton said…
I garden! Digging in the earth, I grab a handful and sniff. Is the soil ready for planting. Could the earth be too wet? Does it smell rich or should I add humus? Yet, better, I could add the bone meal I bought that's sitting under the shed?

Does this sound familiar? Getting ready to garden is a lot like getting ready to write...and yes, a good palate cleaner! Cheers!
Colleen said…
Those sounds like great ways to cast a wider net with your own writing, Wendy, as well as an excellent refresher.

I know several writers who garden, Jeanna. It's wonderful (and lovely) therapy. I wish my yard had a sunny patch. I miss growing fresh veggies.
Suzan Harden said…
I cook. Just tried a new chocolate cherry shortbread recipe two weeks ago. This week GK and I are going to try to re-create the cinnamon chip scones he loves that Starbuck's no longer carries.
Colleen said…
Allow me to volunteer to be your tester, Suzan! Sounds delicious.

I love cooking, too. It's the cleaning up I'm not gung ho about!
Lark said…
I travel--rent a house or apartment somewhere and immerse myself in that world for a week or two. Taking myself out of my everyday life is essential to me if I'm going to put all the Real World ups and downs in perspective. I also get great new ideas for characters, situations and settings.
Colleen said…
All I ask is one thing, Lark. Take me with you! lol

Actually, on those rare occasions when I get away, I only want to play, not write. :) Hence, the Marfa glider trip, which was totally worth it (as you know).
Between teaching, writing and doing academic work, it's tough for me to find the time for a palate cleanse, especially if I want to get any non work-related reading in. But when I do, I like to do artwork or photography. I'm pretty terrible at both, but they're a whole lot of fun. In another life I was also an actress and playwright, so I also dabble with that. And lately I've started trying to fit in at least a little exercise. Trying to walk some outside every day and just listen to my surroundings and let my head drift away.

I love your strategy, Wendy, and actually all of the ones listed here. They sound great.

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