Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Do you lust for your own cupcakes?

Last week, I overheard some people talking about cupcakes.

My brain switched quickly to lust mode. Must have cupcakes, it demanded all afternoon.

I ignored it. Though I love cooking, I’ve never been much of a baker and am indifferent to most baked goods. The craving would pass.

But my lust was persistent.

Must have cupcakes, my brain snarled all evening.

I went to bed, assuming I’d forget the cupcakes overnight and move on to craving frozen peas or tater tots.

But there it was, screaming in my brain first thing the next morning – MUST HAVE @#$% CUPCAKES!


I had to bring something to a dinner party anyway, so cupcakes were as good as anything. I got out my mixing bowls and cookbooks. I sifted and measured, sampled and adjusted, whisked and tasted.

I produced a dozen chocolate cupcakes – half with a dark chocolate Grand Marnier frosting, and the other half with a light chocolate raspberry concoction I made up as I went along.

And by the time I got to the dinner party, I wasn’t the least bit interested in those cupcakes.

It happens that way a lot, which is probably why I don’t bake much. I taste and sample and tweak and adjust as I go, and by the time I’m done, I’m so sick of what I’m baking that I’d just as soon feed it to the dog.

It’s something I’ve found myself doing with writing, too.

I’m not sure if any of you noticed, but something funny happened early in the summer. I was on track to finish LET IT BREATHE within my normal 3 or 3.5 month time frame. I had about a chapter left to write and was already plotting the wine I’d drink when I typed “the end.”

But guess what? I haven’t. I haven’t typed “the end,” and I haven’t opened the wine.

The closer I got to the end of that story, the more I realized there was some “stuff” I wasn’t sure about. Some emotional baggage that wormed its way in and threatened to choke the comedy. I’m an edit-as-I-go sort of writer, but instead of achieving the desired polish by tweaking and retweaking my scenes, I was starting to wonder if the dog would eat manuscript pages.

Lucky for me, LET IT BREATHE is the third book in my contract and isn’t due on my editor’s desk until February. The way the timing worked, MAKING WAVES and BELIEVE IT OR NOT (which are already written) were due at the end of September, so I gave myself permission to switch gears.

I went back and polished the first two to a high sheen. It was a chance not only to perfect things for my editor, but to remind myself of the tone I set with the first two.

Then it was time for the online revision class I’d signed up to take from New York Times bestselling author Lani Diane Rich. I used those six weeks to absorb all the wisdom and strategy I could to prepare myself to return to LET IT BREATHE.

On one hand, I’ve been kicking myself for the hiatus. How silly to stop with so little left to write.

On the other hand, I know myself as a writer. I needed to take a few steps back to gain perspective and curtail the distaste I could feel building in the back of my throat.

Have you given yourself permission to step away from a story when something isn’t right? Do you ever get sick of your own baking or writing? Please share.

And please give me an easier food to lust for next time. Carrot sticks, maybe?


Laura Maylene said...

Frankly, I'm a little unnerved. Getting sick of my own baking? That's a totally alien concept. How could you not want to devour all the cupcakes after frosting them and seeing them in their perfect, sugary glory? I guess I should thank you for shaking up my worldview a bit, but still. I'm a a tad suspicious of you now. Are you one of those people who prefers savory to sweet? Hmm. I clearly don't get that, which is why I'm probably on a direct path to diabetes.

Unlike cupcakes, I am able to step away from the writing. Sometimes it's just necessary to have that space and breathing room.

Janelle Alexander said...

Appropriate/Ironic that you had to LET IT BREATHE....... ;o)

I've now let my finished draft sit for a few months. I now feel enough distance to be able to go in and rip it apart! Sometimes, it just has to be done!!

And don't try to feed the dog your ms.... Not so good for the digestion... ;o)

And those cupcakes look absolutely delicious!!!!!

Patty Blount said...

What in interesting analogy... as a baker and writer, I can truly identify with this post.

I am an excellent baker and I say this outright, no false modesty. I bake mountains of cookies every Christmas and often get requests for specialty cakes. I agree completely; by the time I've finished a dessert, I am so tired of the smell and the sight of it, I can easily say no when the time comes to serve it. It's a great way to avoid holiday weight gain!

As for my writing, I frequently find the honeymoon is over when I reach the middle of my projects. I'm a devoted outliner; I usually draft my endings early. They're the target to aim for in my writing process. The finished ending may only resemble these first drafts the way children resemble parents - you can see certain traits and characteristics, but ultimately, the children are their own people.

For me, the honeymoon tends to end when I can't connect my middle to that early draft of the ending. Something went awry along the way. Not necessarily wrong, just different. Here, I have to take a step back and figure out why and whether I like it more or less than my original plan.

This is typically when I turn to copious amounts of chocolate for help and insight. Or, I read. Reading recharges my writing batteries. But the last thing I do is try to force the writing to come.

The cupcakes looked amazing, BTW!

Anonymous said...

I tend to step away from my writing, or any task, when I'm not sure of the next step. Uncertainty is my biggest hurdle to overcome and get back to work. I want to do it right and if I'm not sure how, I delay. I really have to give myself permission to write badly, but it's so hard to work and work and still write dreck, you know?

As for my baking, I usually appease my craving while cooking because I nibble so much as I go. Except for this one chocolate chili pudding recipe. nomnomnom, that I could eat all by myself, except that my kids would be crushed if I didn't share. Maybe one for me and one for them?

Bren said...

Hmm...well, I think that's a good problem to have and saves a lot of calories. Usually when I make something I have to eat it too. Although, I'm not a baker, so I don't have to worry about cupcakes. :)

I think stepping away from a manuscript is important. I did the same thing with A Snake in Paradise. I wrote it in 07 and then went on to work on a couple other manuscripts before coming back to it this year. The distance (although I don't recommend stepping away for years!) was just what I needed to take a fresh look at the story.

Julie Weathers said...

After baking hundreds of cookies a week for two plus years, I stopped wanting cookies even though I'm an excellent baker. I'll eat one or two out of the lot to make sure the finished product is suitable to send, but I'm very happy to box every last one up.

As for the writing, I have to step away. FAR RIDER is undergoing an agent request revision now. The suggestions were all valid, but it panicked me a bit. What if I don't know how to do what she's asking? What if I do it and it still isn't right? What if....

I set it aside and then started dissecting it by POV plotline and then breaking it down into a detailed outline.

Once I put the extra distance of creative side to the analytical side, everything fell into place.

Jason said...

Whenever I write something I tend to write the whole thing, then edit. But between those two steps I have to "let it breathe" (see what I did there?!) for a bit. If I don't, I'll shred it too deep and end up making a bigger mess than is necessary. Either that or I won't do nearly enough...

As for cupcakes - and baked goods in general - I have no idea what you are talking about. Sick of it? Sorry, can't grasp the concept. :) And I say this as the lucky husband of a very, very good baker.

Génette Wood said...

I have horrible writing habits.

I get sick of my story, the storyline, or the extremely whiny character on page 213, so I either take a break (for a year) or I force the next 30 pages.

Forcing the story to come together has actually been my best method so far. I have an outline, I know where I want to go and what scenes I want to write. I can write an overall disjointed book, and I know it'll be okay in the end because the revisions will bandage the plotholes.

That being said, I'm really sick of the character on page 143. I may just axe him. Or I'll put off re-reading that page until I have an editor who asks me why he's whining about math homework.

demery said...

Yes, Yes & Yes!!

It's great how you gave yourself permission to step back - and, by sharing that info. with us, it's like giving us permission to do the same. Sometimes people feel like they need permission to do a thing like that. It's also impressive that your time away from LET IT BREATHE was productive and inspiring. Good advice.

Harley May said...

I certainly get tired of my stuff. That's why I try to crank out first drafts so quickly. They're crap, but I don't have to worry about finishing it.

And those cup cakes look scrumptious.

Anonymous said...

Ha..Carrots. I wish I craved those. No. It'd be M&Ms or chocolate covered malt balls. . . . so NOT what my hips need me to be craving. LOL.

I'm with Harley. I crank out those first drafts. Then spend time polishing. For me, it's easier to polish after I know the beginning, middle, and the end. :)

But hey, each writer has his/her own way.

Write on

Danica Avet said...

Oh yes, I get tired of my stuff, especially if I've had to rewrite something because it wasn't working for me. I started a new story back in...June or July, I believe and I haven't finished it yet because I just can't make it work for me. I started a new project while waiting for the block to tumble down so I can finish that one. Meh. Now I need a cupcake.

Abby Minard said...

Yes, I get tired of my story sometimes. I've been writing it for so long, I just want it to be done! But I can't rush it, so sometimes I just don't write it.

Linda G. said...

Dang. Now _I_ want cupcakes. THOSE cupcakes. Grrrr. <--That's my stomach.

Yeah, I've had the same thing happen with books I've worked on. Sometime you DO have to let it breathe. ;)

Unknown said...

I particularly hate writing a scene in which a new character is explaining some history after being introduced. It's soooo @#$%^ing dry!! Same goes for an older (Better known?) character! I absolutely hate it and feel like stabbing myself in a number of unmentionable places. Give Me The Action Please!!!

Anywho, on a completely unrelated note.

I was walking down the hall in the University when I passed a pair of ladies talking. I was instantly shot back to your post on eavesdropping in on other peoples conversations.

Lady1; " ... he refused to come!"

Lady2; "Uh-huh."

Lady1: "So I told her to use the tougher program ..."

By that time I'd walked right by and was out of earshot ... snickering the whole way out to my truck.

Jessica Lemmon said...

Oh, I can RELATE! My blog today was supposed to be more of the light-hearted fare (it IS called Smile, Feel Good, Pass it On after all) but I really found myself reeling (albeit in a humorous way) about how I can't wait to get some distance from my neverending book.

I AM tired of it, and think I'm reaching burnout with this particular set of characters (frankly, I don't think they're very big fans of me either) so I swore that I'd stop come Halloween and write something else.

Now that I'm sitting at my keyboard, I'm tempted to start something else like... NOW.

Nicole Zoltack said...

I never get sick of baking. Never. Cooking on the other hand... that's all hubby.

As for writing, yes, I sometimes get stuck on a story and have to let it sit. That's why I usually work on a couple of short stories besides a novel. When I get stuck on one, I work on another. By ignoring the first, I actually tend to think about it more and it works itself out.

Hannah Hounshell said...

That reminds me of when I used to work at Cinnabon. After one christmas season of baking, frosting, and boxing too many to count, I was heartily sick of them. Which is why I thought it was hilarious when my boss told us closers on christmas eve that we could take a few boxes home for free if we wanted. No thank you, lol.

Stepping away from my writting is hard. It seems like I always figure out how to fix my latest snarl the moment I close the word document and put my usb drive away. It drives my husband nuts. XD

Elizabeth Ryann said...

Yes! Totally! And thank you for validating the feeling.

Claire Dawn said...

I took two months off 2 chapters from the end of my WIP. I knew it needed work. After a while, I just gave it an end, so it would have one.

At some point I have to dissect and rewrite.


Laura, LOL, I think it's just that I have a ridiculously small appetite, so I get full too fast. However, I get "un-full" fast as well, so the result is that I have to be eating constantly :)

Janelle, yeah, the dog just sniffed the pages and turned up her nose. Can't say I blame her.

Patty, the cupcakes looked better right after I frosted them. I brought out the special little pastry tool I've used exactly ONCE and piped on the frosting in pretty little designs. But since I'm a crappy baker, my frosting was a little too slack and the designs didn't stay.

midnightblooms, chocolate chili pudding? YOU MUST SHARE THIS RECIPE!!!

Brenda, I felt the same way about MAKING WAVES. There was almost two year gap between the book's completion and the moment it was due on my editor's desk, and it was interesting assessing it with such a big gap in the middle.

Julie, superhuge good luck to you with the agent revision request. Keep us posted!

Jason, very clever use of the "let it breathe" title. Here, have a cookie.

LadyGenette, hey, sometimes a little space and distance is exactly what you need :)

demery, LOL at the idea that anyone might want my permission for anything. OK, you have my permission to rob a bank and give me all the money :)

Harley May, it's fascinating to me how widely authors' definition of "first draft" can be. Mine tend to be fairly polished since I edit as I go, but I know plenty of authors who writer really rough first drafts. There's no right or wrong -- it's just interesting to me.

lynnrush, believe it or not, I do often crave carrots. Or frozen peas, those are the best.

Danica, it's great that you can learn to trust yourself as a writer and know when to step away and give yourself a break.

Abby, hey, your brain knows when to keep pushing and when to say, "screw it, give me a cupcake."

Linda G, I'll mail you my next batch of cupcakes, since clearly I have no interest in eating them.

Matthew, ha! I'm surprised you didn't follow them to hear the rest of the conversation!

Jessica, book burnout is nothing to be trifled with :)

Nicole, great idea with the short stories! I'm not a short story writer myself, but I an see how that strategy would work.

Hannah, I worked at a bakery in college, too, and had similar experiences. Donuts? Um, no thanks.

Elizabeth, glad to help! :)

Claire Dawn, don't feel guilty about taking a break. You'll know when the time is right.

Thanks for reading, guys!

Sierra Godfrey said...

Yes I get tired, but I also am not under a deadline for a contract. I have that luxury.

So I really want to know what happened...have you addressed the baggage stuff? Did you type "The end" yet and open the wine?

adam.purple said...

I have a writing sweatshirt. I'll let you know when I need a rejection sweater (likely any day now).


Sierra, I'm preparing myself to dive back in, so I'll let you know how things go!

adam.purple, good luck!