Two months ago, I wrote a post on why having an English degree kind of makes you a better fiction writer, but won’t mean anything if you don’t write anything. I would say that this post is part 2 to the previous one, but the two make similar arguments for different purposes. This one is for the fiction writers out there who are very “left-brained,” logical, and organized and can’t seem to tap into that “right-brained,” creative side, even when they know they should be writing every day. (Though I’ve actually just learned that the left-brain/right-brain dichotomy is kind of a myth, you get my point.)
And don’t worry. Those cookies up at the top are a part of the explanation.
And the part about the hiatus is going to get explained, too.
UPDATED NOTE: The following metaphor I’m paraphrasing and expanding comes from my writerly friend, the Gumiho. She compares characters to cookie dough and molds to plot, whereas I compare cookie dough to characters, setting, and style, and the mold to the plot. I’ve mentioned her several times in my posts, but I never mentioned her directly. You should all follow her and watch out for her book coming out pretty soon, if you’re into adult fantasy and foxes. She is one of the greatest writing teachers I’ve ever had and one of my very best friends.
And, without further ado…
Writing and Cookies
Writers are word chefs. Instead of making cookies from flour, sugar, and whatever ingredients that are required for the cookies they’re making, they make stories, people, and entire worlds out of words.
But how does this metaphor pertain to the nitty-gritty of creative processes?
Well, in some cookie recipes, the dough has to be made from scratch. You take the basic ingredients — the eggs, the flour, the sugar, the vanilla, and whatever else you need — and make the dough for the cookies. Then, you can either roll up the dough into balls to lay on a cookie sheet, or spread out the dough, get some molds, press down into the dough, and make cookies that way.
Writing is the same way. The dough that constitutes your story is composed of your characters, settings, and style, and the mold is the story’s plot. The theme for your story is its taste — the experience you give the reader when they take that first, literary bite.
And, just for fun, let’s assign snicker-doodles the genre of comedy and sugar cookies the genre of literary fiction. What do chocolate chip cookies, sugar cookies, and snicker doodles all have in common?
They all need dough.
What do all stories, across different genres, have in common?
They all need literary “dough.” They all need characters, settings, and any other what-if idea sparks you bring into the kitchen, and it needs to be used and shaped to be given life.
Dough and Molds
Here are two cooking scenarios that also illustrate the source of common writing problems:
- Having a bunch of cookie molds, but no dough to use the molds.
- Making a lot of raw cookie dough, but not shaping it into cookies.
Do you recognize them?
They belong to the plotter and the pantser.
Scenario #1 describes the plotter, which happened to be my situation for a long time. My cookie molds — my ideas for plots and my organization skills — are very strong, thanks to my English degree. But my characters aren’t rich. My worlds aren’t fully developed. And my stories are weak not just because I don’t have good cookie dough. I don’t have enough good quality dough. I need more ideas, or else I’d be scraping the literary dough bowl and not getting anything!
Scenario #2, on the other hand, describes the pantser — the writer that’s made great cookie dough, but doesn’t make any cookies with it. Sure, one can eat unbaked cookie dough for a little bit. But if you eat too much of it, the raw eggs will make you sick. What good is your dough for if you don’t form it into cookies and bake it? What good are your characters, worlds, and ideas if you don’t sit down, write it, and publish it?
In order to be a great writer, you need dough and molds. You need ideas and structure. You need wild, fiery creativity and cold, calculating logic.
Yet this isn’t to say both sides come easily.
Ice and Fire
Case in point, I would complain to the Gumiho, telling her I wasn’t excited about my story, to which she would tell me I needed to develop my characters and world more so that I would get excited again. But me, being the immature, stubborn, logical, “left-brained” writer that I am, gawked at any sort of attempt at world building or character building because I thought it wouldn’t work for me.
It was nuts. I was completely sabotaging myself.
I avoided character charts, because in the past, I would fill them out and never use them. I expected the story I was writing to tell me when to use the information I had written in the chart, when in fact, it was my job to use the information as I was writing. It is my job, as the writer, to make the dough. It is my job, as the writer, to crack the eggs and stir in the flour and sugar — to figure out my character’s psyche and study my fictional world in detail. And if I have a mold — an idea for what I want the story to look like and taste like, it is my job to make the proper dough to fit that experience.
Cookie molds can inspire you to make cookies, but cookie molds don’t sprout cookie dough (unless they’re somehow magical).
Plot ideas can help create characters and settings for your story, but you still need to develop your characters and settings in order for your plot/structure to work.
In writing, you need ice and fire. Logic and creativity. Mold and dough. And if you try to write without a fair balance of either, your readers will know.
Speaking of which, dear readers…
I’m Taking a Blogging Hiatus
It’s been four years since I’ve started this blog, and I am so glad it has gained such a substantive readership. I’ve gotten to know some cool corners of the Internet, interacted with wonderful writers, and learned quite a lot.
I found that my blog really took off once I started to talk about the thing I was the most passionate about: writing. And like other blogs on writing, I talked about the writing craft, what books on writing I was reading, and insights I’d made.
And while I’ve learned a lot, it’s only been on the short term, not the long term. And I want it to be on the long term.
Which means I’m taking a break from blogging and restarting my creative side again.
I’ll still be reading (and probably reviewing on Goodreads), but for the most part, I want to write more short stories, delve deeper into my novel, and take my own writing advice to heart. I know I’ve written some creative pieces and posted them on this blog, which you can read on the “My Works” page. However, some of it is pretty old, and some of it doesn’t really reflect the kind of writing I currently like to do.
But more than jump starting my fiction, I feel bad telling you, dear readers, to write every day or do this and that and not do it myself. I don’t want to be the kind of writer, teacher, or person that talks the talk, but doesn’t walk the walk. You don’t deserve it, and I don’t either.
Which is why I’m taking a break from here. At least for three months, if not more.
As always, I hope this writing advice has been helpful to you. And if I’ve given you cravings for cookies, or even good literature, I completely understand.
Go out and bake. Go out and write.
I hope we have good stories to tell each other on the other side.