Writing, an Upside Down Cake.


Why is writing a book like baking an upside down cake?  Well let me tell you, this comparison only occurred to me while I was peering through my oven door at an upside down plum cake tartin.

Writing any book or story is very like baking.  First we get all the ingredients together.  When writing, this involves characters, settings, themes, timelines, researched information.  Anything at all that we think might make for a tasty story is gathered up and kept close by.  Then we need a way to put it all together.  That’s the plot.

Just as with baking, things have to go together in the right order.  Step by step, with appropriate timing, care and attention.  If you mess with the method, you end up with a whole mess of quality ingredients that don’t come together as a complete, whole, product.  Same with writing.  You can have great characters, brilliant setting, even good dialogue but if you can’t combine them in a way that’s purposeful and easily digested, then none of those fab ingredients mean squat.

Lastly comes the baking process.  Proofing, editing, redrafting and so forth.  Anybody who’s ever baked knows that the oven must be at the right temperature when we submit our cake.  Too much proofing and editing, and the story becomes generic, overly careful and tough to chew.  Not enough attention to this final process, and the end result is sloppy.  Those fine ingredients that are perfectly mixed and blended, need just the right heat (generally from an editor) to bring them to their ultimate perfection.

But that could be any cake, right?  It’s not only upside down cakes that require all this tender loving care.  You’re correct.  However, this is why upside down cakes are unique and so similar to the writing process.

.  With normal, right-way-up cakes, you can watch them through the oven door, even poke them with skewers to be sure they’re done.  The end result with those babies is generally pretty certain.  With an upside down cake, Even after the ingredients and plot are perfectly and cleverly baked, you still can’t be entirely sure.  Will the fruit/toffee combo stick to the pan?  Will it be soggy in the middle.  Will the topping actually taste good post bake?  With every upside down cake, the moment of ‘turning out’ has been, for me,  a moment of prayer.  “Please god let it be good.  Pleeeeease let it work.  Let them like it. ”  That’s the bit that always makes me think of writing.  As passionate and inspired as I feel while I’m writing, as helpful as my critique partners and editors are, in the end I always find myself praying. “Pleeease, let it  work.”  Because you never know until it’s turned out and eaten, pardon me, read!


5 responses »

  1. I love it when the real-world inspires thoughts about writing, and this is a wonderful analogy, especially when you land on wondering whether the consumer (of text or cake) will enjoy the experience. Delicious!

  2. Hi Laura,
    Well, the plum cake turned out great and was a huge hit with dinner guests. Let’s hope the next book does as well!

  3. Excellent analogy! Sometimes even with all the right ingredients, I still manage to come up with a finished product that isn’t quite right. Writing would be so much easier if I only had the right recipe!

    • Hehehe…So true. Even people who write to formulas sometimes miss the mark. I have an Iranian friend who tells a story about an apprentice potter who does his apprenticeship then opens his own store. No matter how he tries the pots don’t turn out the same. The potter returned to his master and was invited to follow the old man around for the day. Everything was the same until just as the old man was putting the pots in the kiln, he would blow the dust off each pot. “There!” said the young man. “I didn’t know to blow the pots.” Now apparently, when someone is having trouble producing a perfect outcome, Iranians will say “Perhaps it needs some breath.” (they also add the little hand signal, like when you blow a kiss). I think writing and baking are like that. Sometimes it’ needs ‘the breath’.

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