The missing ingredient in most creative plans

Inspired by Samin Nosrat: Chef, author, and host extraordinaire of the Netflix show Salt Fat Acid Heat

It’s fine to do some things fast. There is a time for all that speedy goodness - to whip something up and get it out. Done is better than perfect and all that jazz.

We live in this amazing time where we can create quickly. Like, right now. I had an idea and I rushed to my computer and here I am, with you now, because I just got going.  

But what about those Big Creative Projects? (Like the book I’ve been working on for four years…three years longer than I’d planned).

Or what about those works of art that have a huge impact, or last a really long time? Like Hamilton. Or Beauty and the Beast. I’ve interviewed creatives who worked on both of those projects and one thing is for certain - they took some serious time to make those things. And not just the time any Big Thing like a movie or musical requires - but they took even extra time than a typical movie or musical. They took the time to get it right. And not perfectionism-level right. No, I’m talking the kind of right like a perfectly baked Milk Bar cookie.

I am not taking lots of time on this article. This is not a Big Project. It’s a special one to me, yes, and I hope you like it, but, let’s be honest, no one is probably going to be reading it in 2025, right? And it’s not going to lead an editor from The New York Times to email me (in all caps, obvi): YOU ARE THE GREATEST WRITER IN THE WORLD COME WRITE ARTICLES FOR US WE’LL PAY YOU A MILLION DOLLARS A DAY!!!!!!!!!!!)

But if you’re an overachiever, type-A kind of dreamer who wants to go, go, go (ahm, raises hand slowly), then coming to terms with the Big Projects that do take longer than you wanted can be really, really tough.

Because if you are a dreamer, you also want to make things that are great, of the highest quality. You also want to get things done efficiently, and, like, yesterday. But great + quality take time. 

 For too long, time felt like my enemy.

It was moving too fast. It was passing me by. It was reminding me of all the things I hadn’t done. It was taunting me: you should have finished this by now.   

But then a documentary show hosted by the chef Samin Nosrat on Netflix (Salt Fat Acid Heat) changed my life. (And not just because now I feel confident enough to roast a buttermilk chicken or make pasta by hand.) 

For one, I learned that Samin took four years to write her cookbook. (Cookbooks don’t usually take four years.)

She wanted to do it differently.

She wrestled with it. Sat with it. Tried it a million ways before she got it right. Right where she wanted it. Right in line with what she saw when she started.

(As we learn in episode two: “It takes 15 tons of seawater to create just one kilo of salt.”)

Her Netflix show helped me see how much food can teach us about what it takes to make something really special. 

There is an ingredient that can seem like a taunting enemy but is really a creator of special.  

That ingredient? I’m sure you’ve guessed it already, right?

Time. 

In episode one, Samin makes pasta by hand with an Italian woman and says to her as they slowly knead the fresh pale yellow dough, “Everybody thinks making pasta is so difficult. It’s not difficult. It’s just about going slowly and using the senses.” It’s the same with going for a dream or a big project, I thought instantly, practically whispering it to my TV. 

 Easier said than done, though. Going for a dream or doing a big project is super difficult. So is making pasta. But not really. What’s difficult is all that time it takes. That time when you question what you’re doing. Question what you’re worth. Question if you should really keep going or call it quits. 

What happens in that time, when you aren’t quite sure if your result will be what you hope, is the really difficult part. 

But enduring, putting in the time, is a necessary, even incredibly beneficial part. 

While it’s easy to see all that we lose with each passing day, it’s just as easy to forget what we gain. Time has magical powers to transform your idea into something wildly special.

There is another moment in the show where Samin stands with a friend in Japan as they watch a miso master do her work. Her friend and translator explains how the miso is left to sit for a long time, adding “she leaves it for three years sometimes!”  

“Wow.” Samin responds. “Seems like that time is really what delivers the taste.”

 I spent a week on a farm in Boise a couple months ago to write, and a friend gave me a tour of all their vegetables – some she was able to eat daily, like the lettuce and the radishes. But then, she showed me the line of tiny freshly planted asparagus. “Asparagus takes three years to establish itself,” she told me. They wouldn’t be able to eat it for three years. But unlike the lettuce, it would be able to survive the Idaho winter. And when it does “establish itself,” she explained, that one stalk will yield asparagus over and over again, even after being cut, for years and years.

I have a theory that much of what is very special takes lots of time.

I’m awaiting a new niece or nephew right now and it’s not lost on me that such a special creative project takes nine months. It feels like forever (I’m already going into toy stores and wanting to buy all the things), but I know that important things are happening before I can meet that special someone. It takes time to grow a heart that can last a lifetime. 

Just like it takes time to make pasta. And write a new kind of cookbook.

Whatever it is you’re working on right now, whatever you’re impatient for, remember that you’re not behind. Time is simply doing its magic on you and your creative work.

Keep going.

invisible background small.png