Baking Your Ideas

Ideas are wonderful and wily things. We chase them around, trying to catch their tails so we can pull them to us and write them down – capture them on the page. Creating a new story involves not just one idea, but many. Hundreds (if not thousands) of them must be woven together seamlessly to create the many-coloured threads of a novel.

I’ve discussed before that ideas don’t just pop into existence fully formed, but must be cultivated over a long period of time. Some people let them come together naturally in their mind. Some people do writing exercises to draw them out. Today I decided to bake them into existence.

Many of you may recall that baking is often a bad sign for me – a clear indicator that I’m having a bad day and need cheering up – but not today. For me, ideas best come together when my body is engaged in an activity but my mind is left free to wander. I find if I pose myself a question at the beginning of the task, by the end it tends to be answered. So…

  • The Challenge: To create lemon and ricotta baked doughnuts (with the help of my new lipstick-red Kitchen Aid)
  • The Goal: To get to know several of my characters better (I’m working on a young adult urban fantasy, and have two ‘bad guys’ that I know in name alone)

I thought I’d share with you the recipe I followed for my idea chasing:

  1. While I combined the batter ingredients, I considered what I already knew about my two bad guys
  2. While I kneaded the dough, I realised one wasn’t a guy at all and readjusted my thoughts on her (a sex change takes a while to get your head around)
  3. While I creamed the ricotta and lemon filling, I considered what they wanted in life and the motivations that could drive them through the story
  4. While I cut out the dough rounds and stuffed them with filling, I wondered about their childhoods and how their experiences had shaped them as people
  5. While I watched the dough rise and brown in the oven, I considered the consequences of their choices and how they would carry the weight of them
  6. And finally, while I dipped the cooked batter in butter and rolled them in lemon sugar, I realised these two characters were more interconnected than I’d initially realised

And the outcome of all this baking and thinking? I came away with:

  1. Two nuanced characters that I’ve discovered I actually care about (bad bits and all)
  2. An appreciation for bought doughnuts (this recipe took me a good part of the day)
  3. A happy but very full stomach

Care to join me in a sticky lemon doughnut?

13 Responses to “Baking Your Ideas”

  1. 1 Scott Chambers June 15, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    You have a Kitchen Aid!! Wow, you *must* be a successful author =)

    Aren’t they the best tho?? (I was lucky enough to have an adoring mother who bought one for me so I’ll have to prove my author status in other ways — if and when it happens =) … I went for the more understated (read “old and boring”) white though =)

    Top effort on the doughnuts though I say, and pfft to overpriced store-bought ones!

    Ok, so I’m a little food focussed. Nice post by the way, so good occasionally to peek through the curtains of the windows to your mind, right to the depths of your innermost thinkings, and see that not all of the characters are lounging about with the feet up on the furniture … or even completely confident about their gender for that matter =)

  2. 2 Angela Sunde June 15, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    Oh, you are killing me here! I so want one of those doughnuts. Why did you have to move so far away? Great post about mulling things over re characters.

  3. 3 chrisbongers June 15, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    Damn, those baked donuts look good. Wouldn’t have lasted long in this house… Kate Morton uses a cooking analogy too – the cauldon – for when she’s working things out, but not actually writing. So you and Kate Morton are on the same page! :)

  4. 4 Katherine Battersby June 15, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    Scott, I’m not sure I’m so much a successful author, as my fiance is a successful doctor :) But we did spoil ourselves with this purchase as a combined birthday gift. Great fun, aren’t they? Can’t wait to get the pasta making attachment…

    And girls, I too wish I was closer – we could all get together for coffee and doughnuts (think of all the calories I’ll be consuming due to having to eat them on my own…)

    Chris, I’ll happily claim any similarity with Kate – she’s wonderful!

  5. 5 Cassandra Jade June 15, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    That looks delicious and I love the analogy of baking ideas. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  6. 6 Scott Chambers June 15, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    I am so gonna hate you when you get the pasta making attachment – I’ve wanted one of those for ages!! Just a small matter of justifying the expense to the rest of the household who can’t seem to understand how it would be different to the stuff you buy in the store … philistines I tell you, the lot of them!! But my cream-cheese icing has never tasted so good now that I can just set the super beast to work and walk away (I used to struggle with a little hand mixer). Haven’t used the dough hook much tho – there’s just something very satisfying (even therapeutic) about kneeding your own dough =) I feel a vague urge to say something about writing to justify this post, but seeing those doughnuts has got me feeling too hungry!

  7. 7 jellibeanzbooks June 16, 2010 at 9:29 am

    These donuts look devine! I also find that ideas evolve over time and often when doing something completing relaxing, yes like cooking! Notepad and pen always handy.. :-)
    Jelli-Beanz Book Corner

  8. 8 Katherine Battersby June 16, 2010 at 11:26 am

    Thanks Cassandra. I do love an analogy, although I have a terrible habit of switching analogies half way through :)

    Scott, they clearly haven’t tasted fresh pasta! And you might be able to tell from this post that while writing is my first love, food comes in a close second (actually, Andrew should probably feature somewhere in there too. Whoops…)

    Donna, it’s lovely when you can trust in the process, isn’t it? And a great excuse to do some more cooking!

  9. 9 Susan Bonaci June 16, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    They look delicious! What a great concept of using cooking to delve into your characters. So true – a question posed at the beginning of a task tends to be answered by the end. So of course there’s a needs for indulgent celebration by the end! Lucky you. :)

  10. 10 writeousindignation June 19, 2010 at 6:42 am

    Yum to the donuts (the filling sounds Deeeelicious!), and yes to the ‘thinking about stuff whilst your mind is free to wander’ – my characters have their best conversations in my head when I’m on autopilot.
    Unfortunately, sometimes this results in me having some of my best ideas in…er, the smallest room in the house. The only activity I’m prepared to name is brushing my teeth. Not always practical though; sometimes I suddenly realise I’ve been brushing my teeth for ages – my gums are sore and I should be on the way to work!

  11. 11 Kathleen Noud June 19, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    So, glad you took a photo of your Kitchen Aid because I had no idea what you were talking about. Am I the only non-domestic person that visits your blog? (Surely, there are other like me who refuse to cook/bake/kitchenish-whatever.)

    I know what you’re talking about with the character development thing. Mine live in my head for a while (at least a year at the moment) before I put anything on paper.

  12. 12 Tina C June 20, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    Hey Katherine

    Love the new kitchen appliance – it is a necessity to have one of those – it will pay for itself – just wait…

    As for making me hungry while reading – A BIG tick!

    Glad that you have made the connection that there is a difference between ‘cooking time’, and ‘waisting time’, they are so totally not the same – and each person has their own recipe for what works for them.

    Good luck with that YA story – can’t wait to read it – IN BOOK FORMAT!

    Bye 4 now

  13. 13 Katherine Battersby June 27, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    Susan, eating the doughnuts certainly was the perfect way to celebrate learning more about my characters. In fact, I may have been celebrating for a few days afterwards…

    WriteousIndignation, so true! Not a very romantic notion, is it? Not quite how others might imagine authors get their ideas :)

    Kathleen, I’m not sure what it is about baking I love so much. Probably the eating part! I think for me it’s another creative outlet. Although it doesn’t give me as much cred as your sword fighting and circus classes…

    Thanks Tina! I’m getting much more comfortable with the ideas phase stories go through – that you have to spend a lot of time doing ‘not much’ so your mind can work on the story.

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About this Blog…

A blog of ramblings about the world of writing and illustrating for children, by an author / illustrator who might just have a thing for rabbits.

Katherine's picture books, 'Squish Rabbit' and 'Brave Squish Rabbit', are out with Viking (Penguin, US) and UQP (Australia). Please e-mail if you would like her to blog about something in particular.

All text & images  Katherine Battersby

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