Happy Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras everyone! In our household Shrove Tuesday means one thing: pancakes! After work me and M got straight to making them. I made the mix and we both had a go at cooking them. M can make nice, round pancakes, but unfortunately I’m not too good at flipping them and they end up looking more like scrambled eggs. But it was fun to do anyway, and filled us both up nicely.
Anyway, as I was cooking them I started to think how making pancakes is analogous to the writing process, and I came up with the following list.
Why writing is like making pancakes
1) The tradition of making pancakes on Shrove Tuesday comes from early Christians who needed to use up all their rich food supplies before the forty day fast of Lent. They took very simple, basic ingredients (flour, milk and eggs) and made them into a delicious treat. Writing is also about taking basic ingredients such as a main character, setting and plot idea and mixing them into something special. Sometimes you can write a wonderful piece by recycling your old, forgotten ideas.
2) Flipping pancakes is a risk-one slip of the hand and they can lie in a floppy mess all over the floor. But it’s the only way to cook them properly and make sure they’re brown on both sides, so it’s a risk worth taking. Similarly, sometimes in your writing you have to flip conventional ideas and expectations on their head. It’s a risk to go against the grain like that, but it’s the only way to end up with a balanced piece of writing where attention has been given to both sides of the story.
3) Practice makes perfect. My first attempt at making pancakes was a complete disaster. They literally fell apart then turned into crispy little balls that no longer resembled pancake in any way. Instead of sulking about it I simply tipped them into a bowl, poured milk on them and ate them as ‘Pancake Pops’-a delicious new prototype breakfast cereal! They weren’t that bad actually. But this year I managed to make actual pancakes, albeit very messy ones. My point is, if what you’re writing about goes horribly wrong, don’t give up. You can adapt that failed novel into a short story, and just maybe you’ll discover that’s where your talent lies. Keep practising at it and eventually you will see your skills improve.
4) One of the favourite pancake toppings is sugar and lemon. The two go so well together because the sweetness of the sugar balances out the sharp, sour flavour of the lemon juice. When you write a novel you make a similar balancing act-if your plot is too sweet and mushy and nothing exciting happens your reader will soon get bored and start reaching for the sick bucket. On the other hand, if it’s full of drama, misery and disaster with no hope of a happy ending, you will probably leave your reader feeling frustrated and a little depressed. The best novels are those that are both sweet and sour in equal measure.
5) Pancake batter is virtually the same as Yorkshire pudding batter. It’s made of the same ingredients but in different quantities, and while you fry pancakes you cook Yorkshire pudding in the oven. When the two are done they turn out very different-pancakes are round and flat while Yorkshire puddings are round with a hollow middle like a bowl. In a similar way, as a writer, you can start off with exactly the same ingredients as another writer (the same character, setting and plot idea) and still come up with something very different to their story. That’s because the originality of a story is all in the way you write it and not the basic ingredients, just as the way you cook the batter determines whether it will be a Yorkshire pudding or a pancake. So don’t be worried if a fellow writer has the same idea as you-you’ll most likely produce very different pieces of writing.
6) Presentation is everything. No one wants to eat a floppy, mashed up pancake like the kind I usually make. But if it’s perfectly round and flat, folded into neat little triangles, topped with strawberries and sprinkled with icing sugar then it’s a different story. I’m not saying that the taste isn’t important, but if you were presented with both of the above pancakes, you would almost certainly go for the one that was presented nicely, even if you knew they tasted exactly the same. It’s the same for writing. You can have a brilliant idea, but if your manuscript is presented poorly and filled with spelling and grammar mistakes this will put publishers off and reflect badly on you. That’s why it’s always important to follow the publisher’s guidelines about presentation.
That’s about all I can think of, but I hoped you enjoyed it.
You can find the recipe I used for my pancakes here. I adore pancakes. I like them thick and crispy round the edges, soaked in lemon juice and sprinkled with sugar…mmmmm. How do you eat yours? Hope you all have a lovely Shrove Tuesday, however you celebrate.