Thursday, June 4, 2009

Making Bread

Sara Rosett, author of four mysteries featuring a military spouse, recently likened her synopsis to bread dough, saying that it needed to rest before getting one last read. I’ve been thinking about the similarities between bread making and writing ever since.

I’ve just finished a manuscript and am setting it aside for a month. Back in the day, before artisan breads were available at every grocery store, I made a lot of bread. Rye, whole wheat, raisin, cinnamon, challah. I never got bored making bread. Because it’s all about what you add to it.

The thing about bread is that it only has four or five major ingredients. You need flour, you need yeast. The yeast needs sugar to help it along. Oil is added. A pinch of salt. Whether or not you add caraway seeds, or walnuts or swirl in chocolate, it’s up to you.

All books are made up of the same ingredients. Characters. Plot. The leavening agent is the author’s voice. That’s the thing that can make a book rise above the rest. Raisins added might be in the form of crazy subplots, or a flight into another era. Seeds of quirky characters and fun facts pique our interest.

It’s all about what you add to it.

Bread dough is tough. The more you pull it and push it and knead it with your knuckles, the better. Up to a point. If you stop too early, you risk having dough that is not light and chewy. Too late and you’ve got a hard rock on your hands. You learn from experience what that point is. You’ve ground it under the palm of your hand just enough. The bread feels pliable, compliant, elastic. The only way to know is to make lots of bread.

A manuscript is like that too. There are a lot of holes in my manuscript right now. It’s unreadable in fact. But this is my sixth book. I know when to stop pushing and to just let things rest.

Bread needs to rest. It helps if it has an oiled top, is covered with a cotton dish towel and put in a warm place to rise. I’ve done that to my latest manuscript.

Before too long, I’ll pull it out, slap it on the floured board and give it another round of kneading. It’ll be ready to shape into its final form at that point.


Alan Orloff said...

Great analogy, Terri.

Like you said, you need the proper (high-quality) ingredients, in the right proportions and added in the correct order, to make a tasty loaf. Just like writing a novel.

I make a lot of bread myself, although I use a breadmaker (I know, it's cheating a little). Unfortunately, there aren't any shortcuts like that when it comes to writing!

Lisa Bork said...

That is a great analogy. I think it's a good idea to let manuscripts sit a while too. I'm always amazed at what more I see can ben done when a few months have passed.

G.M. Malliet said...

I am usually surprised when I return to something written a long time ago...something I've abandoned because I'm bored with it, think it's no good, etc. Sometimes it is no good, of course. Sometimes it's better than I thought. I just needed the distance from it.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I need to learn a little patience--both with making bread and mulling over a first draft. It's hard.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Deborah Sharp said...

Very wise, Terri ... I'm only on No. 3, but realize now it's smart to let it sit for a bit (a month in my case, too). Waiting is a hard habit for an ex-newspaper reporter to acquire, but I think it made ''Mama Gets Hitched'' a better book. At least I hope so: we'll see what the editors say!

Keith Raffel said...

That's one reason we write, isn't it? To make bread.