Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Finish Line

The kitchen has become my best friend and my enemy. I’ve been baking desserts for the next Easy Weekly Meals cookbook Moms on the Go. And I’ve found that making something for your personal use is a bit different than doing something for a published book.

When you’re on your own, you may not care if your cookies get a little burned on the edges, if the chocolate cake doesn’t rise as high as you’d like, or the granola bars just will not stick together. As long as it tastes good, right?

But when you photograph something for a cookbook, you want it to look great. “A picture is worth a thousand words” is terrific if you have a beautiful picture. If the subject matter looks like last week’s garbage, that’s not so good.

Part of the problem is being creative. Changing flavors, adding ingredients, substituting something healthier. When I experiment with a recipe, I’m just mixing ingredients together. It’s fun to see how butter and sugar get creamy, how adding eggs makes a batter silky, how the flour makes it thicker. I love the textures of fruit and nuts, the soft slide of butter on my hands when I grease a cookie sheet, the molten goodness of melted chocolate. I see the end result in my head when these ingredients come together – chocolate chip cookies, buttery pound cake, cheesecake with caramel swirls. I can see the colors and textures, smell the chocolate and vanilla and melted butter, taste the cream or the crunch or the sweet.

But sometimes I put in too much flour or not enough sugar. Sometimes I fail. Irritation sprawls on my right shoulder and hisses in my ear while I’m baking. “You don’t know what you’re doing. You can’t put that in. It won’t work.” Confidence sits on the left and calmly whispers, “You’re fine. Go ahead.” Sadly, Irritation wins a lot. And did I mention their friends Frustration, Disappointment and Defeat?

Baking and writing share important elements – they’re both a journey with an intended result. My goal in baking is a tasty, beautiful end product. Writing is the same. Making thoughts into ideas, shaping words into description, giving life to vision. You want to end up with a good story; characters people care about; a goal or purpose that matters.

Give your ideas wings. Let them take flight and grow and transform. Give them freedom to journey on a road less traveled. Rein them in when they get too chaotic. Imbue them with spirit and independence. And add caution and patience for balance.

You may have some interludes with Irritation and Frustration. When you throw in too many adverbs or get lost in exposition, they may pounce on you with glee. Your internal critic can be awfully loud sometimes. But believe in Confidence and go ahead. Chart your journey and see what obstacles lie ahead. The greater the conflict, the more interesting the story. Your first draft may be horrible, like my banana egg rolls. Great idea, but they would not work out. So you tweak, you fine tune, you edit and you rewrite. You fail a little and you try again. And you keep trying until it turns out the way you want.

The 2012 Olympics ended last month and the U.S. won more medals than any other country. Go USA! Each of those athletes trained for years to compete against the best. They all visualized what they wanted to accomplish. See that end result in your mind and the battle is half won. Just keep moving toward the finish line, one word at a time.


Nanette Littlestone is a freelance editor, writing coach, and author who has worked with both fiction and nonfiction for 20 years. She specializes in helping authors to use their passion to achieve their own unique voice and message. For more information, please visit

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