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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Secret Recipe For Writing Cookies

I made cookies the other day and my husband smiled. "These are the best cookies! New recipe?"

I frowned at the dough and tried to remember. "I don't think so."

"What did you put in there?"

"Ah..." We both laughed. My recipe-following skills are legendary. As in: I can't follow a recipe to save my life. Tweaking recipes is a spinal reflex. What went into the cookies? The usual: flour, vanilla, eggs, baking soda, sugar, three or four kinds of chocolate chip, butter, maybe some salt.

I never bother with exact measurements when I do cookies. Adding 3.004 cups of flour rather than 3 cups won't ruin the recipe.

Two things make great cookies: taste and time.

Funnily enough, the same two things make a great novel.

While I watch friends sign contracts and publish books it seems like the publishing world is on fire. People are buying books! This is great!

And I'm still shoveling books under the bed.

One of the keys to beautiful, fluffy, chewy cookies is putting them in a properly heated oven at the right temperature for the proper length of time. If the oven is cold, the cookies will turn out flat. Too hot, the cookies crisp. Too long, they burn.

Books are no different.

Unedited books are raw, good for sharing with friends, but you can get sick if you read to much raw novel. Over-edited books are sharp, crisp, and just a little brittle. There's no life or give in the plot line. They just aren't that fun to read. Tasty once, but not good enough for seconds.

A well-edited novel that's treated lightly, edited to perfection, those are the novels you can read again and again.

Novels, like cookies, are largely a matter of taste.

I've actually met people who like burnt cookies. Can you imagine? Or *gasp!* chocolate-chip cookies with no chocolate chip! There's something wrong about that. Very, very wrong.

I like my chocolate-chip cookies soft, dense, a little chewy, with a variety of chocolate chips so I can enjoy the whole range of flavors while the chocolate melts in my mouth.

While I stir the dough I taste, adding bits of this and that to get the taste Just Right.

When I write and edit I'm doing the same thing. Add a little of this, delete that. Tinker, twist, redo, rewrite, unfold, remix... all of that to get a book to "taste" just right. Most of the time, I walk away from my finished novels just a little disgruntled. The book is wrong, but I can't describe how.

The novel is shoved under the bed until I think of a solution.

Are the novels under my bed bad? Not really. They're better written than some published novels, they certainly good enough to share with friends. With a touch of editing most of the novels could find a home and publisher with a little effort.

But they aren't good enough for me. At a gut level I know they aren't my best work. The novels don't meet my standards.

You see, the secret to writing novels and baking cookies is the same, at the end of the day you have to love what you've made. If you keep tweaking the recipe you will - eventually - get the best cookies ever.

Happy writing! Have a cookie. :o)

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  1. Very true!

    Arg. Now I'm hungry for cookies.

  2. Awesome post, except now I want cookies! *cries* :P