Unlikely Influences is a series of weekly blog posts about how science fiction and fantasy writers can learn the tricks of their trade in odd places. Most are from guest authors, but I’ll pop in from time to time too.
This week’s installment is by Arianne “Tex” Thompson.
What I learned about writing from cake
by Arianne ‘Tex’ Thompson
All right, y’all, let’s be real: cake is serious business. I know it. You know it. Betty Crocker knows it.
In my case, I know it because I used to get paid to make them. (I wasn’t a pro by any means, but the chef I worked for realized that I could learn to frost quicker than the bakers at Sam’s Club could learn to spell.)
At first, they were an occasional part of my work at a college catering company – you know, standard birthday/retirement/ribbon-cutting stuff.
Then some of the customers got more creative with their requests.
And eventually, I got bold enough to take some initiative of my own.
As I got more skilled, I started to do fun little projects on my own time, for my own friends.
Sometimes, I made treats that weren’t even cake…
…and sometimes, I made cakes for customers that weren’t even people.
And I wish I could say that this was how I learned how to build my writing platform, because there are SO many good lessons here about making your reputation, whether you want to be known as a baker or a writer. Practice. Experiment. Keep doing the stuff you love, and quietly retire the stuff you don’t. Look to see what people enjoy about your work, and then do more of that. Realize that not everything you do will be successful,and not every success will be immediate. Use what you do to help other people in some way, because cake is cheap and words are too, but people remember the way you make them feel.
Like I said, I wish I could say that. But the truth is that I’m having to learn those things all over again, years after the fact.
I tell you what, though: if you want to grow some writer-muscles, pick up a piping bag. Really. You learn about persistence, and revisions, and working to a deadline, and about failure – because sooner or later, your beautiful, immaculate, perfectly ingenious idea is going to come out looking like a steaming coil of you-know-what.
You learn how to push through that awful feeling you get when it’s 2:00 in the morning, and the only thing uglier and more hopeless than the work you’ve been slaving over is the neglected wreckage of the rest of your life.
More than anything, you learn how to knuckle down and crank it out…
…and how the time and energy you invest in perfecting each tiny detail contributes to the grandeur of the whole…
… even if your audience only sees a tiny sliver of it.
In retrospect, I think that’s the thing I’m most proud of, and what really stuck with me. Somewhere during all those industrial kitchen all-nighters, I realized that I am unlikely to become the world’s most accomplished writer, and that I have no interest in being the most prolific. What I love is doing something meticulously and well, hopefully in a way that wouldn’t occur to most other people.
So if you can hold to a mission statement like that even in the face of frustration and temptation and despair, AND have people enjoy and appreciate your efforts while you’re at it – well, that’s pretty much the definition of having your cake and eating it too.