Monday, February 17, 2014

How to Cook a Story

Hello from soggy, drenched England! This last week has been pretty topsy-turvy, with awful weather and a power-cut that upset our plans. We're house-sitting, homeschoolers are taking half-term break, and we have a really busy week ahead catching up with friends. Plus, February is a weird month—I usually write after John Horn, and the fact that his Wednesday falls after my Monday has thrown out my pacing, so please forgive my lack of a precogitated post today. Instead, I shall scoop out the recipe book and see if it has any entries on how to cook a story.

 How to Cook a Story

My mom is a great cook (and baker! That's her cherry cheesecake on the right.) No matter what random ingredients offer themselves at late notice, she always manages to razzle up a lip-smacking meal fit for kings. This is something she is particularly gifted in, as many folks will tell, and it's something she has worked daily to improve on. Her gift is a huge blessing to us.

Now, to be honest, I'm not a great cook. Yes, I'm learning from the best, but I have quite a ways to go before I'll be as efficient, as creative, as practical . . . you get the idea. (Actually, I've just forgotten about the cookies I had in the oven. My intention was not to do an experiment involving carbon, but I did. Case in point.)

What does this have to do with writing?

Well, my mom told me a little cooking secret. When she's short on time, she doesn't walk into the kitchen and figure out what to make. She figures it out before she gets to the kitchen. On the way home, in the car, or in the store, she is already peeling the vegetables, preparing meat, or seasoning the gravy—all in her mind.

By the time she reaches the kitchen, she's already walked through the process mentally, and this gives her the edge she needs when the clock is ticking. She doesn't have to decide what to do next—she's already planned it. And this means everything gets done quicker. “It's like you with your writing,” she said. “I'm sure you don't come up with the story only once you're sitting at your laptop.”

That rang true. In any moment that doesn't require alternate mental effort, my mind is rolling along the track of what I need to write in the next chapter. I watch the scenes in my mind's eye as if they had been filmed, and this really helps me connect with the characters' emotions. Then, when I next get to my laptop, the scene has been planned and only the minor details need ironing out.

Another similarity between writing and cooking is this: the tough cuts need time to stew. Just as some cuts of meat need hours and hours to simmer in order to be enjoyed, I find that some ideas need weeks or even months to develop in the background. Right now, I'm working on a story that I got the seed concept for last summer. I resisted the urge to jump into it right away because I knew I wasn't ready to tackle a weightier project. Another two story ideas are vying for my attention, but I know I'll only get to them in a while. They're still unripened; maybe too many plot points are vague, or maybe I'm not ready to tackle the weighty topics they contain. I'll muse over them in the meantime and, Lord willing, will get to dish them up one day.

So—are you bubbling over with ideas, chopping and changing a draft, peeling typos, simmering tough topics, turning up the heat on a half-baked plot, or seasoning some dialogue? Or are you burnt out and in need of encouragement? I'd love to hear from you!

C. R. Hedgcock

P.S. Just click on the picture above for the cheesecake recipe! ;)

Caitlin R. Hedgcock is a Christian author who aspires to use storytelling for God’s glory. She lives with her family in England's picturesque county of Hertfordshire, and spends spare time reading, walking forest trails, and practicing violin for the next orchestra concert. Visit her blog to find out more.

Images © Muriel Hedgcock and Hans Pama (Flickr Commons) 


  1. Love it, Caitlin! Good post! And now I'm hungry. Don't worry about the post either - once I made the same mistake, only I posted the same day as John. It happens.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! I'm sure there are many more activities to compare writing to, but I had never quite thought about it in terms of cooking before. It was fun to concoct a post like this, although a little late at night :)

  2. Great post! I loved how you compared it all to cooking. Especially the part about planning ahead of time ... that is a great tip and I find it so essential to writing. I didn't always used to do that! Having a scene or chapter planned out before you sit down to write is probably my number one way to get anything done during my all-too short writing sessions. : ) Right now I'm turning up the heat on a story. It needs it or else it'll never get done!

    1. I agree! If I don't plan, I end up spending my time remembering the next plot point rather than writing the words to reach it. So . . . for your work-in-progress, are you going to use fan oven or grill? :D All the best! ~ Caitlin


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