March 2nd, 2016

Why Writing a Book Is Like Making Bread

I haven’t baked bread for over fifteen years. But I thought about making a loaf of sourdough this week-end. I never had a bread machine, so the idea of spending the better part of a day making a couple of loaves of bread caused my rational brain to engage. What was I thinking?

Bread is not my favorite food group. However, if that bread is homemade and right-out-of-the-oven hot and steaming with aroma, give me butter and a knife and I will make serious inroads into that loaf.

How did my bread fantasy lead to today’s topic?

There are many steps to making even a simple loaf of bread, just as there are many steps to writing a novel. 

1. Choose a recipe.  Choose a genre. 

2. Collect the best ingredients.

Build three-dimensional characters. Construct a believable plot with twists and surprises that will keep your reader turning pages. If you plot, then plot. If you’re a pantser, think about your story, build a movie in your head.

3. Measure carefully.  

Be a wordsmith. Make every word pull its weight. Don’t overuse one type of construction or rhetorical device. Don’t tell then show. That’s called an echo, and it’s a sure way to make a reader throw your book across the room.

4. Mix thoroughly.

Space out backstory. Add only what is necessary to understand character motivation or a goal at that point in your story. “Dribble” in character and setting descriptions as appropriate. Don’t wax eloquent for a page about the cerulean tones of a fabric. If you must mention several glories about the color, give a couple from each character’s point of view, showing how they see the color.

5. Pour the bread onto a floured board and knead.

Write. Revise. Write. Revise. This is the muscle work. But this is what makes amazing bread—and a selling novel.

6. Put into a greased bowl, cover and let rise.

After a little time away from your finished book, go back and begin your editing passes for continuity and plot holes. Check for your personal “favorite” over-used words. Run computer checks for problematic words like “there”, “just”, “up”, “down.” Don’t overdo this, because there are lots of specific words you can check for. Look for the ones you overuse and fix them.

7. Punch down. Knead. Replace in greased bowl, cover and let rise again.

Give the manuscript to your trusted beta reader(s) or critique group. Allow them the time they need to give you a thorough, accurate assessment of your work.

8. Punch down, place in a greased pan. Bake.

Review the feedback from your critiques for your final edits. Consider making several passes, checking first to streamline for snappy, realistic dialogueCheck for emotion on every page. This is what makes your readers connect with your characters. And makes them tell friends about your book. Find the tension in every scene. If there is no tension, why turn the page?

If the idea of multiple passes to edit your completed book makes your eyes cross, take your time going through once, with a checklist of what you’re looking for. You probably have a good idea of what your strength as a writer is and what your weaknesses are. Look for those weakness and exploit the opportunity to fix them.

Remember, writing is like learning to play a musical instrument. It takes time in the chair to master the large then the subtle skills. Your second book will not have all the mistakes of your first. You will improve—and find more ways to improve your writing as you develop your craft.

9. Remove from pan. Enjoy.

Congratulations! You’ve finished a book and are ready to get on with the business of selling it. You’ve joined a very small percentage of people who have persevered to complete a book. You deserve to get that cube of butter and knife and dig in.

Which step causes you problems? What would you like to share or add to the “baking” process?

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About Fae

Fae RowenFae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes  that she can live anywhere but the present.  As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.

Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong.  She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.

A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand their stories be told.  Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard.

When she’s not hanging out at Writers in the Storm, you can visit Fae at http://faerowen.com  or www.facebook.com/fae.rowen.

22 comments to Why Writing a Book Is Like Making Bread

  • Yeah, and bread IS at the top of MY food pyramid – Now I have to go buy a donut.

    Brilliant post, Fae! And the next 5 lbs is all YOUR fault!

    And since I have someone to blame it on, I’m making it TWO donuts.

    *Giggles and throws glitter*

  • Thanks, Fae, for a very apt comparison. Baking is like writing…both make me eat too much!

    • Fae Rowen

      Ha, Stephanie! That’s why my first activity every morning is a long walk. That walk does double duty, though. I always get some idea for a scene on my walks.

  • carrienichols

    Excellent analogy! I have a weakness for hot cross buns. Lucky for me they only appear once a year. 🙂

    • Fae Rowen

      I’ve never tried a hot cross bun, Carrie, even while traveling in the UK. I’ll add that to the “to do” list for the next trip. What time of year are they baked? Thanks!

      • You’ve never tried a hot cross bun? No! Well you are lucky because they are (traditionally) only eaten at Easter (although the supermarkets have had them on the shelves for months here in Australia). They are, in my opinion, best on Good Friday, hot, cut in half and smothered in butter. Don’t be tempted by the fruit free or choc chip ones either.

        Great post by the way. I will definitely be thinking of bread as I jump into my next lot of revisions.

  • Loved the article! I haven’t done sourdough bread making in years, but i loved the comparison to writing. I’m saving this post just so i can go down memory lane and smell that bread coming straight out of the oven! I remember vividly the: knead, put in a greased bowl, let rise, punch down, repeat process. Comparing that to the whole revising/editing phase of writing is super helpful to me. I am sure keeping that analogy in front of me as I go through my personal agony of revision and editing will keep my spirits up – knowing that at the end of the process will come that wonderful smell of success!

  • Well-mixed, kneaded, and baked, Ms. Rowen. Thanks for sharing a handy guideline with an apt metaphor.

  • Love this post! A perfect analogy and one easy to carry around with me.

  • Now I want to learn to make gluten free bread….

    • Fae Rowen

      I bet you can find a good recipe with directions that will give you the texture without the gluten. Let me know after you’ve tried one, Jenny!

      • I will. My brother said I have to buy pans with high edges so my bread doesn’t collapse while it bakes. I think a lot of the other stuff is the same.

  • jamesr403

    Excellent, Fae! As always, good advice, and this came at a good time for me as I wrap up one project and get ready to start another. I do own a bread machine, but I can’t get it to help with writing. Thanks!…

  • karenmcfarland

    I love your analogy Fae. You had me at fresh baked w/ lots of butter! 🙂

    • Fae Rowen

      Thanks, Karen! I’m going to a special bakery this morning to get cranberry buns for a friend. If they have hot-out-of-the-oven bread I’ll have to buy a loaf after all this bread talk.

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