Wild cook or precise baker?

At Kill Zone Blog, a post by PJ Parrish: What Kind Of Writer Are You? Wild Cook Or Precise Baker?

Ooh, an extended cooking metaphor for writing! Go for it!

I love to cook. I love the whole process of finding a new recipe or riffing on an old one. I love shopping for ingredients or adlibbing and using, say, dill for chives. I love making a hot mess in the kitchen, knowing that a detour can sometimes lead to delicious surprises, …

I hate to bake. I hate the precision of it. I hate the math required to make a souffle rise. I hate having to follow exact directions with no room for error or surprise. The last time I tried to bake a cake I almost burned down the kitchen because I didn’t have any parchment paper and thought — “Wax paper! Why not?”

I laughed at that bit. Yes, that is exactly why not to put waxed paper in the oven. Actually, I’m just realizing this minute that I don’t actually know why parchment paper doesn’t catch fire in the oven. Hmm, maybe I should look that up sometime.

This metaphor may wind up working fine for writing, but actually, unlike Parrish, I like both cooking AND baking. Also, I’ve been baking for a lot of years and actually I don’t hesitate to mess around with recipes for cakes or cookies. After you’ve been baking for a while, you get to more or less know what is likely to happen if you substitute butter/margarine/oil/shortening in a cookie or cake recipe, or whatever.

I imagine Parrish is going to say that cooks are like organic writers and bakers are like outliners, but let’s see …

You can probably guess that I am devoted pantser. I never outline. I plan oh, maybe four chapters ahead and often deviate from that as the plot moves me. I don’t keep any records of word counts and have no set goals for daily or weekly output. 


Being a cook-writer does have its problems. Recently, I had to toss out two chapters because I had fallen in love with a secondary character who had led my story off the rails. But a baker-writer friend of mine recently had to start his book over because, ten chapters in, he realized that he had dutifully followed his outline into a plot cul de sac.

Well, I get to be both. Given a choice, I prefer baking to cooking. But as you all know, I’m an organic writer — generally — rather than an outliner.

I sure do set daily goals and keep track of word counts, though! That is, I don’t bother with a daily wordcount goal unless I’m having trouble moving forward with a project or I’m under a deadline. But I find the growing wordcount of a novel very motivating. Look! Two weeks ago this manuscript was a tiny baby, 10,000 words! Today it’s at 30,000, growing pinfeathers and stretching its tiny wings! A thousand words a day doesn’t seem like much forward progress, but looking at the growing wordcount makes me feel like I’m getting somewhere.

Anyway, fun idea for a post, plus with a bonus recipe. Chicken with cream and white wine. Sounds good, too; and I think I have all the ingredients. Except a lemon for lemon juice, for which I could substitute sumac, which I do have. Who knows, I might actually make this tonight.

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6 thoughts on “Wild cook or precise baker?”

  1. Re flash point of paper (in the oven or otherwise): there’s a book about that by Ray Bradbury.

  2. Ha ha ha! So any paper would work, not just parchment paper? I admit I would be scared to try using different paper.

  3. I’ve had parchment paper burn, but only the part sticking out of the pan. I think the silicon coating helps it not, but I was using it in an oven set between 400 & 500 F. (it was a while ago, don’t remember exactly.)

  4. Allan Lawrence Shampine

    Interesting. Parchment paper appears to be heat resistant but not flame resistant! That is, if you expose it to an open flame, it will actually catch more easily than, say, printer paper.

  5. I can see a series of exciting lab experiments involving parchment versus other kinds of paper….

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