A few weeks ago, I was going on about writing inspiration and the oddities that fire it up in me. Here are the nuts and bolts of said wacky practice in action.
- The universe presents me with an idea.
This is also known as I-am-mindlessly-wandering-in-Target-when-I-should-be-writing-the-next-few-chapters-of-my-novel mode. I spy an endcap with an interesting display. The product dominating the shelves is a collection of chocolate chip cookie dough flavored Larabars®. But the boxes are not all the same. In two somewhat evenly spaced rows, like two-egg twins posing awkwardly for a family photograph, are alternate versions of the protein bar. One box proclaims ‘just 4 ingredients’ while the other counterclaims ‘just 6 ingredients.’ Classic fruit by theft.
2. I pitch my idea to an innocent bystander, otherwise known to the writer of nonsense as a momentary hostage.
Deb, the attendant at the self-checkout, and I have a nodding acquaintance after my repeated visits. I decide to talk to her about this puzzling discovery that there are two versions of this particular Larabar®. I tell her I cannot resist the temptation to try both versions, and she chuckles as she looks over my shoulder. Then she surprises me by giving me her two cents about the listed differences. In addition to the cashews, dates, chocolate chips, and sea salt in the four-ingredient bar, the manufacturer has added apples and vanilla extract to the six-ingredient product. Deb zeroes in on the apples, and opines, “I bet the apples add sweetness and a bit of moisture.” She admits that she has no idea why there are two versions, indeed did not know that there were two types being sold in the store.
3. I do some online sleuthing to see whether The Google knows anything about two versions of the chocolate-chip-cookie-dough Larabar®.
The internet is silent as to explanations for the two different formulations, so I spend a few minutes trying to create an appealing tableau and take a great photo of the two boxes while I plot my next move. Do I just turn this into a short essay where I spend a fun few minutes in humorous pondering about what this means for the fate of the world to come? Or get serious and eat some food bars, arguably the part of this experiment that I have been looking most forward to?
4. I indulge in gastronomic research, completely subjective, of course.
As a self-proclaimed connoisseur of cookie dough, particularly chocolate chip cookie dough, I have to say that neither bar truly tastes like cookie dough. Both versions hint at it, and surprisingly, I think the four-ingredient version is slightly closer to being true to flavor. I am surprised to find that I cannot settle on a favorite between the two. They are both rather delicious.
5. I go to the source for answers.
When I call the customer service line at Larabar®, I am greeted in English by an obviously native French speaker, and then in French. I am asked to self-identify which country I hail from, Canada or the United States. I am then informed that my wait time is about 1 minute, but an immediate ping connects me to a sunny-voiced youth named Avery. He cheerfully asks how he can help me, so I explain my crazy chocolate-chip-cookie-dough Larabar® dilemma. Because my conversations are even more tangential than my writing, I recall a lot of polite chuckling at his end (probably while he is pressing the red button under his desk). He does explain that the four-ingredient bars are being phased out in favor of the six-ingredient bars. He does not dumb anything down for me, using the industry jargon that Larabar® “was experiencing some shortening of shelf-life,” in their four-ingredient bar and that apples were added as an ingredient mostly for their acidity, which has natural preservative qualities. I ask him whether the vanilla extract was added for flavor, but Avery truthfully admits he is not sure about the reason for the addition of this ingredient. He is happy to hear that I like the new bar (and the old one, which is inconsequential, because it is being discontinued), and promises to share this insanity — er, feedback — with the product design team.
6. I have a fully fleshed-out writing topic!
See above. Look around you. Pay attention to whatever captures your interest, no matter how prosaic or unorthodox. There is endless fodder for the writer, especially if you open yourself up to write about diverse and unacademic subjects. I think of it as great practice for freelance assignments because it broadens the depth of my writing, and forces me to keep learning new things!
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have two boxes of Larabars® to finish while I search for my next inspiration.