October 31, 2012

An Important Question

The best writing advice I ever received was delivered by my Fiction Writing II teacher, himself not yet a professor, and who looked exactly like Tobias from Arrested Development. He told us that, with everything we wrote, we ought to ask "What work is this doing?"

Something about that resonated with me. I think it may have been the word "work", invoking something utilitarian about our attempted artistry. The words and sentences should each do something, add to the collective whole and help work towards something. They should not simply be floating, frivolous things, however beautiful the intent.

So let's take that question, and use it on coffee drinks we have on our collective menus. What work is this doing? That is, why is it here? What role does it serve? What niche is satisfied?

A cafe au lait is different from a latte in obvious ways. The former is made with drip; the latter with espresso. But that's not really crucial information to most customers. So we ask, what work are those drinks doing? What does an au lait do that a latte does not? If you like X, which should you get?

A mere listing of ingredients is not satisfactory here. A cappuccino is not simply a foamier latte. There are different experiences to be had, expectations to be met, and work to be done.

But what is that work? What job is each drink looking to do? Answer that, and we can build a better menu, and recommend more appropriate drinks.

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