PAPER BOATS - Finding your way to express yourself

 Food writer Mikey Bell having one of his recipe's inspected by Waffle. 

Food writer Mikey Bell having one of his recipe's inspected by Waffle. 

Finding the confidence to express your creativity is a challenge many of us face. It’s one that Mikey Bell encountered, until he realised that by combining his passion for food and writing would offer the perfect outlet for his creativity. 
In this post, Mikey takes us from his initial frustrations as a fledgling writer, to the moment he found the creative space that has led him to producing his first eBook, Life Through Food.

Beautifully written, hopefully Mikey's story will provide you with inspiration to help you embrace your own creative passion, and express it in your own unique way. 

PAPER BOATS by Mikey Bell

For years I was embarrassed to tell people I was a writer. 

I always felt as though telling someone I was a writer would prompt the question “What have you written?”, to which my response would have to be nothing because I hadn’t actually shared my writing with anybody. For some reason we live in a world where people believe that creativity without an audience has no value. So as a result, creativity without mass consumption is pointless, right?

I convinced myself for quite some time that the reason I was reluctant to share my writing in my early 20’s was because nobody was paying me, so why should I share it. If I’m not getting something in return, why bother? Eventually I learnt that this was not the reason.

The reason why I was reluctant to share my work was because I could not stand confidently behind anything I wrote.

My computer was full of unfinished fiction, attempts at scripts, some really questionable poetry, each piece trying to tell the stories I wanted to tell. But despite my love for writing, love just isn’t enough. You need a connection. So my stories remained incomplete.

Imagine trying to sail in a paper boat. Structurally you understand what it needs to do and you know you have the drive to sail it, but a paper boat never really gets you anywhere.

In 2012, I wrote my first food article. It was a recipe for Shakshuka, a Tunisian dish of poached eggs in chopped tomatoes. It was a piece I wrote after reading Nigella Lawson’s ‘Nigella Bites’, a book that made me understand that recipes also had the power to tell a story. Frustrated with never being able to fully commit to a written project and tell a story in an organic way, I decided to try and write a story through food.

I started to structure the article around the bog standard concept of recipe writing - do this, do that, chop this, chop that – but during my writing process, I began recalling my grandmother’s cooking instructions. It was her last minute attempt to teach me how to cook an egg in all of its forms before I went to University and before she passed away. I called it my eggheritance.

I realised that writing a list of instructions became a story of my relationship with my grandmother and a recipe for poached eggs suddenly became a story of coming of age. This was when I realised I could say everything I wanted about the world and my place in it, through writing about food.

I felt like I was sailing again, but this time I was in a proper boat.

Years and hundreds of recipes later, I’ve come to realise that food writing has allowed me to explore topics that I never could with fiction. I have written about politics, turbulent relationships, work pressures, my pride as a gay man, the connection I have to my family and friends, heartbreak and everything that falls in between.

And what I find the most interesting is that I am no more of a writer now than I had ever been when I kept it secret. I still write just as frequently, and I still write as honestly. The only difference now is that because I feel so much more connected to what I’m writing, I’m not scared to share it.

I have always approached writing with the philosophy of: it’s mine, until it’s yours. When I am writing, I am trying to tell my story but once you read it, the story is yours. My process is complete once I finished writing it - how it makes you feel and what you do as a result of it is then your process.

I will only ever release work that I am proud of. So once it’s released, there is no measurement of success. There is no metric to its value. I loved writing it, and that’s why I shared it.

The promise I made to myself when I decided to start sharing my writing is that there is no end goal. There is no objective or KPI. There is no ‘if I achieve this or that, then I am a success’. There is absolutely no strategy to what I do.  

I recently had a radio interview where I surprised the DJ’s by telling them that I switched my social media notifications off a long time ago. I’m a Brand Marketing Manager by trade and all I do is monitor performance analytics, and as odd as this may seem, I genuinely don’t know the accurate stats of my own website. I don’t review them, nor do I care to.

However having said this, I had a moment of doubt before I started putting together my first mini eBook ‘Life Through Food’. A few initial conversations had already taken place about the production, but nothing had been formalised and a question I kept asking myself was; who cares?

I had the concept ready to go, the recipes sketched out, everything all lined up – but who cares enough to read it?

I hadn’t questioned the value of my own content in a very long time. It reminded me of being in my early twenties and hiding my writing work for fear of nobody caring. My mother reminded me that I don’t write for any reason other than the fact I love it. She was right.

Once I came to terms with the fact that I would be happy with what I produced whether two people or two thousand people cared, I knew it was a project I was happy to sign up to. Furthermore, going against what was encouraged, I knew I had to make the eBook available for free.

If it were to have a price, it would then become a question of what it returned, and the only thing I ever wanted in return for my content was for me to be happy creating it and for someone to be happy to receive it.

That’s why I wanted to punctuate this article with a recipe from the eBook for Cold Peanut Sriracha Noodles, which is taken from the Cook For Yourself chapter of ‘Life Through Food’. This chapter was written as a way of highlighting the benefits of connecting to the moment which in turn will allow you to connect to yourself.

What you may initially see as a set of cooking instructions is actually a space for me to talk to you about how I feel, the memories I have, the life lessons I’ve learnt and the stories I want to share.

Food writing is the platform I’ve found to share my creativity. Through this I’ve learnt that telling your stories in your own words, in your own way and on your own terms is the most liberating form of self-expression and as long as you enjoyed the creation process, it should never be kept a secret.

If you don’t write the words you want to read in the world, paint the picture you want to see in the world, sing the song you want to hear in the world, then who will? Everybody has their own story to tell and I encourage you to find your own creative space to tell it.

Otherwise you’ll always be trying to sail in a paper boat, and that will get you nowhere.