Mise en Place

Making Soup Stock

Making Soup Stock

LAKE MACBRIDE— The Harvard Business Review wrote about the application of mise en place to daily planning. While most of us are not professional chefs, laying out the ingredients of a day and conceptualizing the execution can make us more effective in the way it aides the best chefs.

“What’s the first thing you do when you arrive at your desk?”asked author Rod Friedman. “For many of us, checking email or listening to voice mail is practically automatic. In many ways, these are among the worst ways to start a day. Both activities hijack our focus and put us in a reactive mode, where other people’s priorities take center stage. They are the equivalent of entering a kitchen and looking for a spill to clean or a pot to scrub.”

Like many people, I check my email, the Washington Post, BBC, Guardian and my twitter news feed before turning on the light in the bedroom. The problem is obvious. A friend wrote a note about a meeting next week, which I read around 3 a.m., and have been thinking about since. While interested in the content and potential outcome from the note, it was a disruption that could have been handled differently. The first thing I did after turning on my computer was to write a response.

I’ll try mise en place as a planning tool a few times and see if it helps make my days more productive. Today is soup stock day— a perfect place to start.

As a writer, mise en scène is more engaging than mise en place. Borrowed from film theorists, mise en scène is a step ahead of mise en place in that it considers what goes into the camera frame and sound track, which when combined with cinematography and editing tells a specific narrative. Mise en scène sets the time and space of a creative narrative whereas mise en place is prep work to create a specific result. Both have measures of effectiveness, but mise en scène enables better creative possibilities.

It wouldn’t hurt to assemble and think about the elements of a narrative before writing, and to an extent we do that. Yet the process of writing is such that once we go down the rabbit hole of a particular topic, the outcomes have more diverse potential. We often don’t know where we will arrive, or how, at the beginning.

A case could be made that we should begin with the end in mind— not making that case here. Writing is a métier that includes processing diverse experiences and making some sense of them. It is impossible to know the end unless the piece is utilitarian the way a letter to the editor or newspaper article is.

Since writing is a lowly paid occupation— its meager income supplemented by farm and warehouse work— managing time is a must. Some may labor for days over a 500-word essay, but it is more important to crank it out, take the learning and improve during the next piece. Mise en place may help us do that more effectively with better results.

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