I bake my own bread. Besides the fact that I’ve got kick arse bread coming out of my oven that smells fantastic and tastes even better, besides the money I save, baking bread itself is an act that I enjoy.
The first thing that people usually bemoan is how much time it takes, of course. Well, if I knead for 15 minutes and then 5 minutes more I don’t need to go to the gym for an arm work out, do I? (I have a similar philosophy about gardening and playing with one’s children too). That saves me time and money.
But one of the real joys of breaking bread is the experiential knowledge it departs. How many generations of humans have indulged in this act? I’m standing in a line of history as old as the discovery of yeast, as old as agriculture itself. I can imagine the lives of inumerous peoples; Italians, Germans, French, Lebanese, Mexican, Jordanian, Egyptian, Persian, Roman, Armenian. The texture of the dough, the act of pressing my hands into it, the exact pressure and force running up my arms – these things have been experienced through the ages by countless civilisations and are a link between our humanity and experience of time on earth.
Another thing that I like about it is the time it gives your brain to daydream. Activity of such forms are fantastic for writers. Washing up, pulling weeds, planting spuds, cleaning the bath, hanging out the washing, walking – these are all excellent downtime activities in which to daydream and get something useful done. Instead of sitting staring at the blank page or the blinking cursor, cursing, you’ve weeded the garden and got a new insight into your story or article, plus, the experiential motion of it lends sensory detail to your writer’s reservoir.
It has also occurred to me that writing is like baking bread, and that writers too, are formed, or can benefit even, from the form that baking bread takes.
I started off originally with a ‘quick’ bread recipe, whereby the dough was only kneaded once, and lightly. It rose well, it smelt good and it tasted alright too but there was something lacking in the structure of it. It lacked breadiness. I pushed on a few times with this bread, but it crumbled a little too much and wasn’t quite as satisfyingly fluffy as I wanted, as I expected bread to be.
So I experimented with the two-knead, double-rise tradition. Lo and behold! It’s bread! Real bread with that slightly elastic grain that a good bread should have.
I equate this with my first attempt at being a writer, back in my early twenties. It looked for all intents and purposes like writing, but it wasn’t fully developed or complete. My stories often follow a similar path now too, as I’m sure many writers’ do. The essence of it is there, but it’s not strong enough yet or doesn’t do what you quite expect it to do yet.
Now for those of you who have never baked anything yeasted from scratch with your bare hands, you might not be aware of an important stage in the rising process. You knead the buggery out of your dough when it’s first together, until it starts to feel firm, smooth and elastic. Only your fingers can tell you when that’s happening. And then you put the dough back into your bowl (greased), cover it, and let it turn into a monster. It’ll double (or if you stay away too long, triple) in size, and get a nice yeasty smell about it. It’s brewing. And then, you unceremoniously dump it onto your floured work surface and beat the crap out of it. You literally punch it down to nothing again, and knead all of the rising out of it, split it in two, stick it into your tins and then you let it rise again, (interestingly, this is what they call ‘proofing’) before putting it into the oven and reaping the delicious rewards 4o or so minutes later.
When I was a young writer, someone punched the stuffing out of me. Someone told me my writing was boring (others also said the opposite) and my work was rejected from where I’d submitted it. But if that hadn’t have happened, my immature work would have sufficed, and I would have been an inferior quality writer.
Luckily, like my dough, I rose again to the challenge, after allowing that beating to work on me and reshape me.
The same goes for my stories. A lot of effort goes into them; the gathering of the ingredients, the right measuring of them, the mixing of them together, the body of the story rising up out of it; but were I to stop there, the story wouldn’t be as strong. No – I have to ruthlessly plonk it out onto my working surface, beat the hell out of it, re-knead it, reshape it, and then bake it before the story is really ready to be consumed.
That’s what editing is – the essence of the story remains the same, the ingredients don’t change, but how you handle them makes a difference to the end result.