People who know about food often say you’re either a cook or a baker; either you enjoy the freedom of putting together a savory meal to your own particular specifications, or you like the structure required for making sweets. I’ve always fallen squarely on the cook side of this divide. I’m happy, even excited, to make dinner out of whatever happens to be in my kitchen—in grad school, one of my staples was pasta with canned clams, canned black olives, and kale. I season liberally and always without measuring. Sometimes I don’t even taste a dish until I’m ready to serve it—it feels like cheating, somehow.
Baking, by contrast, has always intimidated me. You have to have all the right ingredients ready beforehand, sometimes even at the correct temperature, and then you have to put precise amounts of them together in just the right order. I love the outcome of baking: I’m always happy to eat a cookie or a scone. What scares me is all the planning.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, my writing habits mirror my kitchen preferences. I hate to plot out anything in advance. Instead I like to feel my way through every scene, testing and tinkering as I go. When I start a book, I usually have a vague idea of a premise and a main character, and that’s it. Everything else I make up as I go along.
. . . .
But being a cook-writer also has serious downsides. Sometimes my writing goes completely off the rails—I had to throw out 75 pages of my first novel after it devolved into a bizarre story of collective hallucination. It takes me forever to get into a project—I fiddled around with Sophie Stark for a full year before I found the multiple point-of-view structure that let me really get into the story. And never knowing where you’re going is incredibly stressful—until I finish a project, I’m never sure how, or even if, it will turn out.
. . . .
I didn’t make charts or outlines—a cook can’t become a baker overnight—but I did try to plan ahead of time, especially for essays. I talked through ideas with my friends. I tried to come up with not just the germ of an idea, but an entire arc, before I started writing.
So far, it hasn’t worked. In every case, I end up throwing out my plans by paragraph two. An essay that was going to be about enjoying art we don’t understand turned into one about art created by people in pain (also, it still isn’t finished). Even this essay was supposed to end on a hopeful note—maybe, I was going to say, I’ll learn to use my newfound baking skills in writing someday. But the truth is, I probably won’t.
Link to the rest at LitHub