Monday, May 6, 2013


DISTILL: to subject something to or transform it by distillation; to extract the essence 

Have you ever watched an herbalist make essential oils? It’s a fascinating process and one that I will be the first to tell you I know only the basics of the process. I've watched a friend of mine make batches of essential oils.

There is a chamber or pot that holds raw plant material—flowers, leaves, wood, bark, roots, seed, or peels (which is yet another process). The chamber is then placed over or above a pot of water. As the water heats, the steam passes through the raw plant material, and allows for the vapor to flow into a coil where it condenses back into a liquid, which drips into another container. This is what you would call an essential oil. That means it carries the distinctive scent, or essence, of the plant. The oil is then allowed to cool and is poured into storage vials. Later, my friend will bring out her ‘recipe’ book and mix the oils to create certain scents or properties for herbal medicines. It’s a time consuming process and take much more raw plant material than one would assume to create enough oil to fill a little vial. After watching the process I now understand why essential oils can get pricey.

If one is doing peels or fruit to make oil it is first pressed into a paste (that takes some work unless you have a press to do it for you) and then put in the chamber over boiling water and the same process ensues to collect the oil into storage containers. Some fruit/peel/pulp is cold pressed—meaning no heat. The pressure from the weighted press causes the oil droplets to separate from the raw plant material and drip into a container. Olive oil can be made this way.

My mind always jumps to correlations when watching a physical process. I've had a story I wrote on my mind. I know it needs editing. As I watched this process it got me thinking about my rather fat story. I realized that I needed to do some distilling. All those words, scenes, descriptions, and characters (raw material) need a heating chamber so the essence of the story could be condensed into a purer form. Once I had the essential oils of the story distilled I could then mix them to give impact to what I wanted my story to be—much like my friend getting out her recipe book and adding tiny drips and drops oils to make something new and wow. More than a drop can create an overpowering mess.

I’m no different than any other writer. I have attachments to certain phrases and scenes but unless that scene is moving the story forward there is no place for it. I have to detach and let it go. I’m not saying my scene is worthless—it’s not. There was a purpose as I wrote it and that function could have been a necessary ingredient to define a character or back story in my mind so I could find the path to move the story from point A to point B. It was something I needed as a writer but not necessarily something that the reader needs. I want them focusing on the distinctive characters, events and the emotions of the story.

I need to put away the cups and tablespoons and get out my dropper and add some drops of the essential oils to enhance the punch of a scene without losing the story. I want wow in the now.

  • So, how goes your writing this week?  


Jo said...

Interesting comparison Sia. I gather, from lots of authors, this is something they all have to do.


Karen Walker said...

I had company all last week so I'm looking forward to getting back to my story later today, after singing practice.

L.G. Smith said...

I know about the distillation process from reading the novel Perfume: the Story of a Murderer. Yeah, it's kind of gruesome, since he tries to bottle the essence of different women.

Anyway...I love your analogy. I do find I have to distill my writing down when I revise. I always have too many words mucking things up.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That does sound like a lot of work.
What would be the opposite? A fluffer? That's what I usually need for my writing!

Johanna Garth said...

So true, we all have our little routines before we get down to business.

Liza said...

Funny, I just went to an aromatherapy seminar that taught about essential oils. Love the analogy about distilling our writing. Yep, get it down to the pure essence, that's the ticket.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Great analogy. Like essential oils, hopefully, if we learn how to properly distill our writing, our words will be more concentrated, and have a greater impact.

Melanie Schulz said...

Great correlation. My writing is going good. Slow, but good.