Baking Lessons

So, yesterday evening I hit another small milestone in my WiP – I got to 109,000 words.  The last few thousand words have been a real struggle – I’ve felt like I’ve been carving my characters’ actions out of solid rock for the past week.  I’m not quite sure why that’s the case, because most of the rest of the story has flowed freely, and this part should be no exception.  I know what I want to happen, it’s all plotted and waiting to be written, but for some strange reason it just seems… hard.  I’ve theorised that it’s because I’m trying to write a scene filled with action and ‘scenes of grave peril’ – not something I’m used to – and I think it’ll benefit from an edit and rewrite.  But of course, in order to edit and rewrite, I have to write the blessed thing to begin with.  Enter the quandary.

In any case, last evening I got to 109K.  I was pleased, and I feel the work is reasonable.  It’s not at all perfect, nor anywhere near it, but the dialogue is strong, the characters are developing all over the place and I love the scene they’re in.  But, as with every first draft, it’s clunky in places, like badly buttered bread; lumps of plot in random spots and lots of parts where everything is spread too thinly, and every once in a while a character acting a bit like an automaton because I’ve decided I want to move things on a bit.  I know this isn’t good, and I know I’ll get to it once the story has all been told.  In fact, I’m looking forward to going over it again, like a cake decorator with a palette knife, and smoothing the whole thing out.

In order to celebrate my 109K, though, I decided I’d do a bit of baking.  I had an ulterior motive, too – I have a friend who is a particular fan of my shortbread biscuits, and I’m calling to visit him and his wife today so I wanted to bring some along.  My biscuits (or ‘cookies’, if you prefer!) usually turn out all right despite the fact I don’t own a mixing machine – I cream the butter and sugar together in a big bowl with my largest wooden spoon, and it’s tiring but it really works out the stresses of the day.  The only thing I forgot last night was to make sure the butter was soft!  The first batch of biscuits reminded me of the work I’ve been putting into my WiP – it was like making cement shortbread.  I knew the butter hadn’t been properly mixed, but I went ahead and tried them in the oven.  Some of them melted a bit, and they puffed out more than I’m used to, but they came out looking all right.  My husband kindly offered to go and get me more butter for a second batch (as I felt the first weren’t up to gift standard), and they worked much better – more like my usual standard – but some of them were slightly overdone.  I’d forgotten that, because I’d baked so recently, the oven would be much warmer than normal.

So, I was left with two batches of bicuits – a portion of the first batch and a portion of the second batch were pretty good, and the rest were just edible.  It made me think about how you can follow the instructions and do your best, and still come out with a product that isn’t exactly how you imagined it would be.  It might be slightly misshapen, perhaps a little more or less baked than you’d like – maybe it even has a lump of butter in the middle (whoops!)  But, overall, you have to admit that the finished product is fine.  It mightn’t win awards for beauty, but it will do the job.

The method I’ve been using up to now for the WiP isn’t working so well in recent days – but I’m beginning to wonder if that’s a good thing.  My characters are different people now than they were at the beginning of this journey, so naturally they’re thinking and reacting differently.  It’s hard for a poor old writer to keep up with them!  They’ve never faced such danger before, so it’s new ground for them and for me.  Last night’s shortbread was a slightly different recipe to my normal one – usually I bake stem ginger shortbread, but last night’s was chocolate (I couldn’t get any glacé ginger).  So, in a way, it was new ground, too.  I didn’t make the most beautiful shortbread in the world, but it’s certainly worth eating – and my first draft WiP won’t win the Booker Prize, but I hope it’ll be worth reading!  With practice, I’m sure my chocolate shortbread biscuits will be just as delicious as their ginger cousins, and I hope my second, third and fourth edits of the WiP will resemble – but be a marked improvement on – the current, slightly half-baked, first draft.

If at first you don’t succeed… bake, bake, bake again!

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