Monday, February 14, 2011

How Cayenne Pepper is Like an Outline

I owe a lot of thanks this week to cayenne pepper. I recently had the kind of cold that involved a lot of annoying late night coughing. Over-the-counter medications were useless. In despair, I googled “cough suppressant” at 2:00 A.M. I found the following recipe:

2 teaspoons water
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon lemon juice
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

I thought, cayenne pepper to suppress coughing? It seemed so weird that I almost left it out. But then I figured that it couldn’t hurt. I mixed up the ingredients and then tasted it. The cayenne pepper stung my throat. But almost magically, I stopped coughing and went to sleep.

The next morning, as I looked over the outline for my book, I realized that cayenne pepper is like an outline. You can use too much and burn your tongue, just like you can outline too much and feel tied down by what you wrote. Or you can use too little and barely taste it, just like when your outline is too sparse and you write without direction. Or you can do what I’m finally doing – use and outline just the right amount. My hope is that the outline I’m working from is giving me enough direction so that when I finish one chapter and start another, I know where I need to go without being too tied down.

I wish I had figured both of these things out sooner: I might have spent less time coughing. And less time staring at a blank page.

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