This morning while I stood in the kitchen, rolling out yet another pan of cookies, I realized how much it reminded me of editing. I'll get into that in a second. First, for non-writer friends, or anyone who clicked through just to see pictures of baked goods, a little anecdote.
On Sunday, Lulu helped me bake the first batch of cookies, and I thought for sure it would take twice as much time to make today's batch by myself. Not so. Turns out, I'm pretty efficient on my own. It was, however, a lot less fun to bake alone. I guess that's why my mind wandered so far from baking.
So here goes, my doughy mashup of holiday baking and editing.
Sunday's cookies were green. We cut out trees and holly leaves, and dipped them in white chocolate. Snow, y'all! Today's cookies were SUPPOSED to be red, but even after using most of a bottle of red food coloring, they still look a little pink. I figured they'd darken up a bit in the oven. Yeah, not so much.
|Sort of red.|
I started the job with dough that was ALMOST the right color, but there wasn't really much I could do with it. I tried adding more food coloring, but it seemed to get a brighter and brighter pink, rather than deepening to a rich red. I stopped before I turned the stuff day-glo fuschia, at least. Knowing when to stop walking down a path that isn't turning out right is half the battle in editing, too.
So finally it was time to cut. I intended to make a batch of stars and then dip them in dark chocolate. I have a half a dozen different star shaped cookie cutters, so I got them all out. Some have five points, some six, and one even has eight points! Variety! I picked one out and set to work. Between the strange dark pink color and my indelicacy with a spatula, most of the first batch reminded me of Patrick Star.
|Just add green shorts and a confused facial expression.|
Same goes for editing. The first pass through a manuscript will be rough. Even the basic shape of it might be a little off. Big things are easy to spot and fix. The obvious. The glaring. Like, "Hey, that looks like a beautiful daisy!" "Uh, yeah, but it's supposed to be a STAR!" You see smaller things you need to fix, but you have to be able to see all the problems before you can fix them all. It was time to try again. Second round!
Sometimes in editing you make a change, and take it too far. You wouldn't want to remove ALL the adverbs, for example. The rules of writing exist, but that doesn't mean they are etched in stone and you'll be thrown out of the Temple of Publishing forever if you bend them a little. In fact, if you don't bend them a little, you may as well be writing technical manuals, not fiction. You don't want to give up the essential look of a star just so you won't have to worry about bending the arms a bit. Blobby stars were a no go. Time for round three!
This time, I tried yet ANOTHER shape. This one wasn't half bad. It was much larger than the first two, so I could fit fewer on the tray at a time. I started to worry I'd be in the kitchen forever unless I did something drastic. I crammed as many of the large stars as I could on the tray, and lo and behold, problems arose.
|Finding a satisfactory plan B.|
By this point, I was sick of stars. They were hard to cut out and force them to hold their shape. What had become of all my brilliantly laid plans? Screw it! Time to make stockings instead.
Sometimes it's easier to just make a change when the reality of all the faults of your original plan seem to hit you at once. Sometimes a character needs to go. Sometimes, after several rounds of editing, you'll realize that one of your subplots goes nowhere. Sometimes you need to add in a new character, one who will help tie the story together. Whatever's wrong, sometimes it takes a big change of shape to set you back on the right course.
My stocking cookies will taste just as good as the stars, and they'll still get a chocolate coating, but won't they be a nice change from a mountain of stars? Okay, now that I'm really getting the hang of this, I'm ready for round five.
Eventually the ball of dough you have to work with gets smaller
In baking, I take that scrap of dough and mush it into a flat blob, and bake it with the rest of the cookies. It's the BONUS COOKIE! My reward for finishing the job.
Now all the hard work is done. It's time to add the decorations. In the case of my cookies, that means chocolate and sprinkles. In the case of my manuscript, it means showing it to my critique partners. They will spit shine it for me, and point out all the problems I'm unable to see for myself. You wouldn't go to all the trouble to bake up those tasty cookies and then leave off the final decoration, that last step. Don't think your manuscript is complete without running it by a few trusted writer friends, either.
I haven't had time to dip all the cookies from today's round of baking, but the ones we finished on Sunday look adorable (and taste quite nice, too). I need to take a break from the kitchen for a bit, but when I go back, I'll be fully engaged with putting the finishing touches on those cookies. Just like putting the finishing touches on my manuscript. Sometimes you need to walk away for a bit, let things cool down, and take everything in with fresh eyes. The cookies will have had a few hours to firm up, or they would crumble when I try to coat them in heavy chocolate. By the time I return, they'll be able to stand on their own. :D
Hope y'all didn't get a stomachache from too many cookie metaphors. Now I'm off to dispose of the evidence that I'm clumsy at handling fresh-baked cookies. And then I need to do some editing.