The trouble with working at home, as a writer, is that I’m very close to my kitchen. There is never such a drive to pull out the butter and eggs, the chocolate and nuts, as when I’m deep into the struggles of editing, which is what I’m doing today: fixing my novel-in-progress.
There are plenty of other distractions here, too, such as the hot pink sequins on the necks of battling hummingbirds at the feeder, and the thirsty leaves of the giant hibiscus needing a spritz, and even the laundry—never mind all those books staring confidently at me from various places, whispering Read me instead. I’m done. Read me. I’m better than your book might ever be.
All of these are strong contenders for top distractions, but primarily it is cookies, cakes and muffins that win—or rather, the making of them. And it’s not that I need to eat these things in order to write—I gravitate toward crunchy foods to get my synapses firing. Not that I don’t eat what I bake! Afternoon tea is just wrong without a cookie to dip into it. But as distractions go, I think it’s more the satisfaction I feel, after baking’s relatively small commitment, when I pull the treats out of the oven, browned to perfection.
Is it perfection that I seek? I want measurable outcomes to be met; I don’t mind if the cookies are a little misshapen, or completely different depending on the pan I use, but I want them to taste good, and be cooked to a golden brown. I want the cakes to rise, without coming to a high peak and cracking, or sloping off to one side, and be firm—but tender—all the way through.
Cakes are special creatures, because their post-baking imperfections can be disguised with one simple tool: frosting. I started baking cakes when I was a young girl (it runs in the family—my next-door-Nana decorated wedding and birthday cakes as a side gig, and I’ve passed this onto my daughter, who ran her own cupcake business at age 12), and I’ve lost count of how many cakes I’ve repaired with a glorious application of icing. I’ve used Seven Minute Frosting—a marshmallow-like cooked icing made from egg whites, sugar, water, vanilla and that magical powder, cream of tartar—to make the whole cake into a fluffy white cloud. I’ve stuck wonky layers together with thick butter icing. I’ve covered crumbly surfaces with big rosettes. I’ve swirled ganache into messed-up attempts at fancy frosting designs. I’ve run out of ingredients and have resorted to berry sauces, sifted cocoa, chocolate chips for lettering.
But back to writing. Right now, I’m at a stage in my novel revision where I’m having to rethink some backstory, and I’m returning to older drafts, retrieving plot points I abandoned years ago that now seem better than what followed.
To bring it back to baking: maybe the most recent version was well-frosted, but lacked a well-baked centre. Because what frosting cannot do is disguise a cake I’ve burned, or make up for forgotten sugar or baking powder.
Writing is hard work, and revision/rewriting is especially so. I don’t always want to do that hard work. Can’t I, I ask myself, make it look pretty with sprinkles and chocolate swirls instead? Turns out, the answer is no. I want this book to be the best it can be, all the way through.
Still, I can’t promise you there won’t be fresh brownies by the end of the day.