Writing a novel is easy as baking a cake, isn’t it?
It’s been so, so long since I baked a cake, but with a special friend (and great baker) visiting on short notice last week, I thought, why not? Of course, I can bake a cake.
I used to whip up a teacake, an hour before playgroup, without using the recipe. All it needed was basic ingredients; ones I was sure to have in the cupboard. Easy peasy.
Except the discovery of no caster sugar led to 1. doubt 2. reassessing the plan and 3. compromise. We don’t even use plain white processed sugar nowadays, but raw. A lot coarser than good old caster sugar. Could I even bake a cake with it?
Long story short. While I was utilising the whizbang nut crusher thingy that came with my stick-mixer to pulverise the raw sugar, it occurred to me how much making and baking a cake is like writing a novel.
This analogy banged me over the head harder when I tried to take my teacake out of the oven too early. It’s always such a temptation to send a manuscript out too soon – when it’s still soggy in the middle.
SO I’ve included the recipe for both.
Novel 1. Gather idea, characters, setting, world and era in a large bowl. Or set a starting point for pantsers
Teacake 2. Mix/cream butter and caster sugar
Novel: 2. Mix in generous handfuls of conflict, action, motivations
Teacake: 3. Mix in beaten egg
Novel: 3. Mix in several helpings of subplots, themes, imagery, unique metaphors, similes
Teacake: 4. Stir in s.r. flour and milk (one third at a time)
Novel: 4. Stir in scoops of subtext, twists, turning points (add intermittently and build slowly to climax)
Teacake: 5. Bake in 190 degree oven 25 – 30 minutes
Novel: 5. Rewrite, edit, rewrite, polish until fully cooked
Teacake: 6. Test with skewer
Novel: 6. Test on beta readers, writing or critique group, mss assessor etc.
Teacake: 7. Cool on cake cooler
Novel: 7. Cool and allow to rest several weeks if possible
Teacake: 8. Brush with melted butter, spread one teaspoon combined cinnamon and 2 teaspoons caster sugar
Novel 8. Retest. Repeat steps 5 to 8 through as many drafts as necessary
Teacake: 9. Serve to discerning guests who appreciate a homemade cake (serve with butter on side – optional)
Novel: 9. Submit to well researched publishers who publish your genre, style etc. (Do not serve with sprinkles, I mean sparkles and/or flowery stationery)
For a successful novel, we need to add all the right ingredients, in right measure, just the same as baking a cake. Quantities, method and cooking times in writing can be quite variable. We rarely get the recipe perfect the first time. And though we don’t always have to start again from scratch with a novel if it’s not working, sometimes it can prove better to throw out the entire mix and start again.
Just like baking, we learn through doing. The trickier the recipe, and newer we are to cooking, I mean writing, the more practise and craft we need to learn.
The prize winning recipe is always going to be the one that adds that zing, the unique ingredient that leaves the simple teacake in the slush pile. I know I can bake a teacake, now I’m aiming for the double-chocolate sacher torte.
I’m somewhere between steps 5 and 6, but I’ve tried step 7 several times. Love to hear which step you’re at, and if you’ve ever had to throw out the entire mix and start again.
(Postscript: Matt, Sally and Dan, I miss you guys being here to lick the spoon and beaters.)
For the record: I used to make a lot of cakes, THEN, I became a writer. I’m posting some pics from my kid’s birthday cake memory book to prove it. Plus I love any excuse for a trip down memory lane. [Making those cakes was so much fun. My kids loved to pore over the Women’s Weekly Birthday Cake book, weeks ahead, choosing their cakes. Sometimes they picked the next birthday’s a whole year ahead. (Though Raphael came courtesy of Dad’s clever drawing skills.) Funny how much I miss those days. I hope, my darlings, you’re planning to make me lots of cakes or bring treats when I’m old and doddery. Okay, older and more doddery xxx M]