Why Writing A Book Is Like Making Gravy

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Writing a book is like making gravy.

I was making gravy last night (not as a random event, I was cooking dinner) and as I had my usual ‘is it thick enough?’ panic in the last few minutes before dishing-up time, I realised how similar the process was to writing a book.

Bear with me.

You need to start with a good base. In the case of gravy, this means a decent stock. For a book, you need a solid story idea or character or setting or, ideally, all three.

You need to turn the heat up.

For book-writing this means you need to put your characters under pressure. Make things worse: Challenge them and force them into action and change and revelation. Dial up the emotion and let the whole thing simmer.

You need to be patient.

There’s a long stretch of gravy-making that is just stirring. This is also true of book-writing. (And by ‘stirring’, I mean ‘typing’.)

You need to hold your nerve.

Every single time I make gravy there is a point at which I panic. There is always a moment at which it’s probably too late to add any more cornflour (I run the risk of spoiling the flavour of the gravy or making it gloopy), but I’m convinced it’s too thin and tasteless and will be a roast dinner disaster. It’s missing the essential, smooth gravy-ness that I am aiming for and is barely clinging to the spoon when I test it.

However, if I hold my nerve, whack the heat up a bit more and stir, stir, stir, it – magically! – becomes smooth and thick and glossy.

I didn’t need to add anything else, I just had to keep on going and give it that last bit of care and attention.

I just realised that this is the point at which my analogy breaks down…

There is definitely a point at which a book goes from being a collection of ingredients to feeling like a living, breathing story, but even after I reach that stage, I am never fully satisfied with the finished product. It never measures up to the perfect thing I had in my mind.

My gravy, however, is pretty damn fantastic.