Baking Words

I was watching an old sci-fi series (must confess I am nervous to say which one, as it would place me on a side of the divide – either loved by rabid fans or scoffed by intellectual superiors) and spent half the time mildly amused at the way future technology was imagined.

Especially the voice-activated “computer” used for everything from lifts to journal entries.

I love the action of my fingers on a keyboard, and seeing the words come out bit by bit. So I am not sure that I would ever be truly fond of voice-only, keyboardless computers. And yes, I do know that it’s coming/that it’s here already.

But still.

The letter by letter appearance of words on the white screen in front of me has always created a kind of a soothing rhythm, hypnotic at times. I love it to bits. It is the best part of writing.

(Possibly because it happens to coincide with the first draft of anything?)

But speaking my thoughts into a microphone? I don’t know. I think it might be too fast, too undigested an action for my taste.

Apple Cinamon Bread BY Janet Hudson ON Flickr
Photo by Janet Hudson, Flickr

Writing has always felt a bit like baking a home-made bread, the way I used to do it with my mom. I loved watching her big, firm-flabby arms wobble as she grabbed the dough, and kneaded it, grabbed it again, folding it inward and wrestling it into rising submission.

And then placing the raw dough into bread pans that she had oiled with butter beforehand and wrapping them in layers of cloth and blanket to place them into the sun, allowing them to rise mysteriously in the hot, dark den she had built for these breads-to-be.

After the unwrapping there was a final battle of wills with the now-bubbly dough before placing it into the hot oven, and finally … the thick wad of butter on the steaming hot slice of bread.

Yum.

And, I think, exactly in line with the process needed to create a proper piece of writing.

What My Parents Taught Me About Writing

I remember waking up one morning early to a strange sound in the study. I went in there to check, and found my mom sobbing over her typewriter.

Literally sobbing.Ma verwerk

Because she had to just finished drowning her beloved main character.

Both my parents were published authors and very involved in mentoring young writers, so I learned a great deal about the discipline and the rigors of writing from them.

Oh, and if some of these sound familiar, it is simply because the road to writing has always been pretty much the same – whether it is tar or gravel or grass or cobblestones, the path still leads from here to there, from the start of the book to reader reading the last word. Nothing much has changed.

1.   ABC: Writing is Hard Work.

ABC = Apply Bottom to Chair. Yes. You have heard this before.

It’s still true, though.

If you don’t sit down to some serious writing (or do it standing up), nothing will ever magically happen.

Writing. Is. Hard. Work.

2.   Kill Your Darlings: Edit!

William Faulkner said that you have to kill your darlings.

Because if you don’t kill your darlings, they will kill your book.

For those of you who are horrified at the suggestion of murder, please note: a “darling” in a book could be a favourite minor character who doesn’t contribute to your main plot but wonders off on his or her own little garden path.

Or it could be a flowery phrase, or a word you use over and over and over … get the picture?

Or it could be a whole subplot that makes your book overweight and dowdy instead of streamlined and sexy.

How do you kill your darlings? Well, editors are the best assassins you can find. But before you hire them, do some assassination (aka editing) yourself.

3.   Your Sweetheart’s Blue Eyes: Make Notes!

Somewhere you need to create a table and note down details regarding your characters and the setting and anything else that you could forget one hundred pages into the book. Do not change the colour of someone’s eyes simply because you didn’t make a note of it. Excel makes it really easy to create a character list, but there are handy apps out there that you might want to use as well.

4.   Night Owls or Larks? Know Yourself

My mom woke up at four in the morning to start writing. My dad wrote until midnight.  Oh what a marriage that must have been!

Seriously though: you need to write when you are fresh and wide awake and able. You cannot write with a hundred people asking you for tea or food or socks. But you also cannot write in the mornings if you are not a morning person.

5.   Be a Great Spy. Know Your Market.

Maybe you are writing for yourself. That’s cool. Then you don’t have to get to know your market. Well, actually, you already know your market pretty well then …

But otherwise: get to know your market or get to know someone who knows your market. Publishers, editors and agents all know their fields well. But it doesn’t help a lot if you don’t do your own market research and you also don’t listen to them. Either spy yourself or trust your spies.

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