Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How writing is like cake decorating.

Just read this and got inspired.  "Are the Rules of Writing Killing Your Creativity?" by Asrai Devin.

The rules of writing include all those "do-nots."  Don't overwrite.  Don't overtell.  Avoid purple prose.  Stop describing things that don't matter.  Get to the meat.  YES.  This is all important.  But this is not how creativity works!  Here is the line that hit me hardest:

"It's hard to go back and add details.  You lose the voice of the story."


And that's the key.  The rules of writing are really the rules of editing!  And you cannot edit what you have not written!

I've mentioned before that I've been known to decorate cakes.  Here is one of the cardinal rules of cake decorating, the rule that ensures your buttercream is satin smooth with no lumps and cracks and inconsistencies, no unsightly cake crumbs marring its surface:

Start with way too much icing.  

After the first application of icing, only remove, never add.  Never.  Add.  More.  Icing.  Only remove the excess until you're left with perfection.  And if you don't add enough excess in the first place, you're screwed.  So you have to really pile it on thick.  Lots and lots of icing has to go on that cake, icing that you know full well is just going to come right back off.  But it has to be there!  It serves a purpose!

And it works.

And that's how writing works, too.

And that's why NaNoWriMo works.

These 30 days are your first application of icing.  The dumping.  The huge scoop, scraping the entire bowl of icing onto the top of your cake, leaving nothing behind, never worrying that it's too much.  Dump it all.  Write everything.  Write the nonsense.  Write the garbage.  Write all the possibilities, every ounce of plot, story, character development, overanalyzation.  Put it all down.  Because you cannot go back and add substance later, not really, not consistently.  You'll end up with cake crumbs marring the surface of your cake.  You'll end up losing the voice of the story.  All you should be doing in draft two is removing.

Or, as Stephen King put it in his book On Writing:  "2nd draft = 1st draft - 10%."

Only removing.  Never adding.

But before you can remove?  Before you can edit and whittle and shape and carve and smooth it down to perfection?  You have to DUMP.  Empty out the bowl on top of your cake and leave nothing behind.

I need to go write now.


  1. I'm not even a writer yet I can tell this is excellent advice! Great analogy!

  2. I thought for sure this was going to say something like, "You have these beautiful pictures in your head of perfection... and then you start writing." In my experience, that's what the two have in common. ;)

  3. I love this! I am a cake decorator, too, and this makes perfect sense to me. I've deleted huge blocks of my NaNo because it was so awful. I should know better. There might have been something in there. *palm to forehead* I've had a bad couple of days but now I'm ready to just pile it on. Thanks.

  4. yay! so glad i could help! i'm stuck too, waaaaay behind, so when i read Asrai's post and felt myself unsticking i just had to share the wisdom. :)

  5. Hooray. I'm glad I can say I inspired this. I get to go around saying I inspired someone.

    I want to make the icing into a euphanism. I'm going to dump the icing all over my WIP.

  6. I love your writing here! Very well-written. This is one of those things that doesn't sound like it could have been written by someone I actually know (let alone gave birth to) because it's just so professional and...well-written!

  7. Well, this IS the post that, according to Who Do I Write Like? (http://iwl.me/), is reminiscent of J.K. Rowling. ;)

  8. Don't hold back! :) And yes, you are totally inspirational!

  9. I mostly agree with this, but there are spots I will add. Parts of my story still need to be fleshed out, but in the interest of time and power writing, I am making notes and will add details later :) I think it can be a little dependent on the person and the story. Though I will never disagree with too much icing!

  10. Yeah, it's true you will find stuff to add later. But I think as a general rule, you shouldn't be holding things back if you have them. If you don't have them NOW but you're making notes and they're percolating, I guess that's a little different.

    Maybe consider those the frosting embellishments. :) After your cake is smoothly iced you DO go back and actually decorate it. But the foundation is solid, and that foundation came from your original dump of excess icing and subsequent scraping away the excess.

  11. This post makes me feel both ashamed and hungry. But: You go, girl.

  12. Oh, Kate. Next year. I am coming for you next year. Just start preparing your mind now. I won't let you get out of it twice.

  13. This was genius! You are very wise young grasshopper.

  14. Whenever someone asks how long it takes me to write my posts, I tell them I write really quickly. But I spend hours editing.

  15. Ha. Just how young do you think I am? :) But thanks, I'll take it.


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