I’ve heard the telltale signs of a professional cook are cuts and burns on their hands. That’s the kind of thing that makes you wonder about dedication to a craft. Those people go into work everyday knowing they’ll get marked up by hot oil and pointy things for eight hours, but they still go in there and fry up our well-done hamburgers no matter how much it hurts their hands and hearts to do it.
Meanwhile, I’m over here typing with a bandaid on my thumb and patting myself on the back for jamming the linkable phrase “high-end kitchen cutlery” into my content in a way that’s arguably organic.
We all have our scars, is what I’m saying.
In my case, the scars are mostly emotional. Like one time I watched a horror movie where an attractive Englishman crawled out of the toilet, and now every time I go to the bathroom I get a little worried that I’m about to be rude. But I’m a writer so emotional scars are my bread and butter. As for the bandaid on my thumb, that’s from a dull bread knife, so you could say I lead a pretty full life.
The problem is now that I spend most of my time writing I don’t get scars like I used to. That gets a little embarrassing because a lot of that time I’m writing about knives, and just like you shouldn’t believe someone is a chef if they don’t have burns on their hands, you shouldn’t believe someone knows how to use a knife unless he has his share of scars.
With that in mind, I’ve adjusted my writing habits so that physical self harm roughly matches the level of mental self harm.
Thinking Time is Knife Time
You use your knife by playing with it. It still counts.
When you find yourself staring at the screen trying to work out how you’re ever going to get another thousand words on the intricacies of steel heat treatment without sounding like a middle school science teacher, that’s the best time to absentmindedly pick up a knife and start playing with it. Your body will never be more vulnerable to your own stupidity than when you’re actively trying to avoid writing like an idiot.
For those unfamiliar with the mechanics of playing with a knife, I’ll walk you through it.
- First flip the knife open. (For best results, use a folding knife).
- Then close the knife.
- Now flip it open again.
- Now close it again. (Repeat steps 1 – 4 until you drop the knife. If you don’t accidentally close the knife on your fingers after five repetitions, start changing grips.)
- Open the knife and hold the top of the handle between your thumb and index finger.
- Place the rest of your fingers on the opposite side from your index finger.
- Now push on both sides of the knife with your fingers until it twirls into a reverse grip.
- Repeat until blood is drawn.
Thanks to a wide range of angles and raw momentum generated by this practice, you put pretty much your whole body at risk of getting cut. You can expect to get a scar on your foot within at least ten minutes if you’re really not trying.
If you just keep flipping the knife and nothing happens, don’t get discouraged. Playing with knives is very similar to writing in the sense that, if you keep doing it, you will eventually stab yourself in the foot.
Learn to Fail in the Kitchen
Chefs get their burns and scars from being around sharp and hot things all the time. As a writer, I don’t have that opportunity, so I have to be especially adventurous during those few minutes I am around the hot and sharp things in the kitchen.
For example, I know how to cut bread, and I know that using a dull knife can be dangerous, but I used the dull knife anyway because I’m not afraid of bread. Life is about taking risks where you can, and you’re not going to get a sandwich until you’ve placed your thumb precariously underneath a knife and started sawing away in blind frustration.
Unless you get pre-sliced bread, but remember this is all about trying new things where you can.
Cutting yourself in the kitchen is very similar to writing in the sense that approaching something stupid with the mentality that you just need to get this crap over with so you can eat will always get the job done.
Ask Friends for Help
Practice this phrase: “Hand me that knife.”
You need to get the tone of those words just right to where you sound desperate enough to really need the knife, but casual enough so the friend doesn’t think about handing you the knife too hard. A good delivery of that line should result in the friend going so far as to open the knife for you and jam it toward your general direction while still looking at whatever it is you’re supposedly about to use the knife on.
You can usually count on getting a nice scar on the back of your hand from this, but I’ve managed to do this so well that scars have showed up on the shoulder, leg, and cheek.
It’s very similar to writing in the sense that, nine times out of ten, asking a friend for help is often the most efficient form of self destruction.
A Quick Note on Intentional Scarring
Some people seem to think they can just cut themselves on purpose and be done with it. It’s a fast solution, but ultimately ineffective as a mark of competence or a form of therapy. I went to high school with people who did that. Not once did I ever feel like I could trust them with one of my knives.
Cutting yourself on purpose is like bad writing in the sense that everyone can tell you’re forcing it for the image.
Writers Read; Knife Idiots Play with Knives for No Reason
Reputation is one thing, but integrity is at the heart of a good scar. It’s the sign that you’re not only dumb enough to keep three to four different sharp tools near your person at all times, but that you’re willing to keep picking them up and swinging them around even when you have no reason to do so. That’s really the secret to this.
If you want to get good at writing you have to read a lot and write a lot, sometimes for no reason. In the same way, if you want to keep getting cool scars as a writer, you have to play with knives for no reason.