Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cakes and Novels

I've been making cakes all week for the street party we're having in our neighbourhood for the royal wedding tomorrow. I've also been working on my next book; I'm about 20,000 words in. Baking is a nice break from writing; it's satisfying and creative and of course you have a cake at the end of it. So I've been thinking about the ways that the two activities are similar, and different.

Why Baking A Cake Is Like Writing A Novel

  • It's quite a precise process. You have to concentrate. If you mess up or forget an ingredient or make an unwise substitution, the whole thing can turn out to be a sticky horrible mess, or possibly make someone vomit.
  • It's creative. After you've finished and it comes out well, you feel an enormous sense of pride.
  • A cake and a novel aren't quite complete until someone else enjoys them.
  • At some point, magic happens. A wet, shapeless batter rises, takes form, and becomes something wonderful.
  • You should always wait for a cake and a novel to cool down before you ice/revise them.
  • While you're baking or writing, your house will most likely be a complete mess.
  • They both require lots of butter. What? You say you don't need butter to write a novel? Have I been doing it wrong all these years? I mean, no, of course not. You don't need butter to write a novel. How silly of me. *hides butter under desk*

Why Baking A Cake Is Not Like Writing A Novel

  • If you muck up your novel, you can go back and fix it afterwards. With cakes, you're sort of stuck with the horrible sticky mess, unless you're good at emergency buttercream fixes.
  • Baking a cake, you have to follow a recipe, or at least a basic process, quite strictly because there's a science to it. You can improvise, but if you leave out the baking powder, you're in trouble. With writing a novel, every once in a while, you can break the rules.
  • You can bake a cake with a hangover.
  • You can let your children help you bake a cake, whereas if you let them help you write your novel, it will consist entirely of explosions, aliens and princesses in tiaras.
  • A cake tastes good at almost every stage of its process. But you wouldn't want to lick the bowl of the first draft of my novels. They are really, really crap before they're finished.
  • Novels have a lot fewer calories than cakes. In theory. I've never eaten a novel, so I'm not 100% sure (though I do seem to consume a lot of chocolate while I'm writing one). But cakes and novels are both very nice with a cup of tea.

Any other ideas?

(Come back on Sunday to hear from Anna, who has A Fine Appreciation of Cakes.)


  1. Vital piece of information alert: Ignore the impulse that tells you to put an Elvis impersonator in your cake... And your novel. Until you've had a chance to digest it properly.

  2. Both a cake and a novel are also very good in the bath. Unless you are reading on a kindle. And an e-cake would be really useless.

  3. Wrapping your novel up in a ribbon and adding sprinkles won't help it if you didn't pull off the baking process!

    Great lists, Julia! ;)

  4. With a cake, you can see (and enjoy) (and share) the results of your efforts the same afternoon. With a novel, not so much so.

    And you're so right about the hangover part.. :-)

  5. The best part of baking a cake is licking the bowl afterwards! Not sure how that works with writing a novel - sampling the best bits when you do readings to people? (Not that I've ever done that, thank goodness!)

    You're a genius, Julie, loved your comparisons!

  6. Now I'm hungry and want cake and want someone else to revise my book with buttercream...

  7. What a fun post. As a cake-baking novelist (a novel-writing baker?), I totally get it.