I love baking sweets almost as much as I love writing. I thought it would be fun to make a list of what we writers can learn from the art of baking!
1. Read the Recipe First. Oh, the disasters my kitchen has witnessed when I’ve skipped this step. “Wait, I have to put chopped oranges in this?!” Of course, there isn’t a recipe for your book, but there are plenty of books that can guide you as you write. Read the best examples of your genre and pay attention to how those books are put together. What ingredients did the author use? What aspects can be changed to fit your own vision?
2. Measuring Scoops Matter. If you’re baking a cake and you use a tablespoon of baking soda when you should use a teaspoon, you’re going to have an overflow in the oven. It’s just as important to measure the ingredients of your story. Do you have enough character development to balance out the plot-heavy scenes? Is there enough dialogue to smooth the way between sections of action and description?
3. Baking Soda Is Not Baking Powder. Once again, baking soda is the star of our metaphor. Confusing baking soda with baking powder can cause a catastrophe – and it’s such an easy mistake to make! One word can change everything. Put in the extra time to use the perfect word for what you mean. If you don’t have the vocabulary to do that (or if you’re a word nerd), expand your knowledge by reading something challenging and learning new words as you go. I’m a huge Cormac McCarthy groupie, so I’ll take this opportunity to point out that he’s the best choice if you want to learn tons of new words!
4. Know When to Take It Out of the Oven. A tray of cookies can go from temptingly chewy to totally charred in a matter of minutes. The trick is knowing when to reach in and retrieve them. When you’re writing, you also have to know when the story has reached its end. One story may run its course in five perfect pages, while another may need five books to fulfill its promise! I don’t know if there’s a concrete rule for knowing when a story should end; I just know when I’ve written past the natural end of a story, I feel it. If your characters have achieved their greatest goal or suffered their greatest defeat (depending on whether you’re writing comedy or tragedy), it’s probably about time to wrap it up.
5. Clean As You Go. This is a rule to break when you’re writing. Sure, it helps a ton when you’re baking – if you can knock out a few whisks and bowls along the way, it will make for a smaller mess in the end. Unfortunately, it’s completely counter-productive in writing. Trying to do heavy editing as you write is an easy way to slow your progress to a standstill. Leave the imperfect passage until you’ve completed the story, then return to it with clear eyes. Of course, you could also get an editor to help you out.
I hope you’ve had as much fun reading this as I had writing it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a batch of cupcakes calling my name!
P.S. I did make the cake in the photo. It is the best cake I've ever made, and the recipe is right here if you want to try it! Thank you, Bon Appetit, for enabling my chocolate addiction.