How To Cook A Book
(Originally posted on October 10, 2014)
I first published this recipe a couple of years back, but have decided to repost it as it seems apt for this moment in time as I am currently trying to write Book Three. Obviously it’s proving tricky, but hopefully things will work out. After all, I have everything I need – the ingredients of the book – piled in front of me. I’ve spent months developing characters and plot in my head and in notebooks, and more months spewing out a first draft of around 100,000 words. Now it’s time to turn this ungainly heap into something of substance, maybe even something delectable, or at the very least something edible. I follow a fairly straightforward (famous last words) recipe for turning my heap of first draft into a recognisable book. In the spirit of generosity I’ve decided to share it.
100,000 assorted words of your own choosing
A handful of main and supporting characters
2 pinches of darkness
Blood, sweat and tears
A dash of spice
A generous helping of patience
1 Take the beginning, middle and end, and place one after the other in that order. This is important. Odd things happen if they are put in the wrong order, and only a very talented chef can prevent the mixture from curdling.
2 Add your main and supporting characters, the darkness and spice, and combine with about half the patience. Stir well. The mixture will appear very agitated. Don’t panic, things will settle down later on.
3 Arrange your words in the right order. This is vital and the more care you can take at this stage the better. Remove any excess words and save for another recipe. (NB words are precious. Store carefully in an airtight jar and place in a cool, dark place until needed.)
4 Take a big red pen and cross everything out in a fit of anger and despair. Add the sweat and tears. Drink most of a bottle of wine. Tell yourself you are the worst writer on the planet. Stomp around grumpily. Snap at all the things you love most in the world – if you have one, a spouse will come in handy at this point. If you don’t, improvise; children, dogs, traffic wardens all make suitably innocent targets. Go to bed vowing you will never write another thing.
5 In the morning things should look marginally brighter. Capitalise on this. Using the rest of the patience, continue to rearrange and mould the remaining words into well-balanced sentences, paragraphs and chapters until you are left with clear themes, a cohesive narrative and believable characters. The blood from a stone might be necessary here, if so, fold in gently.
6 Repeat steps 4 and 5 until the book is finished. This can take anything from 2 months to 10 years.
7 Once finished, check for seasoning, then leave the manuscript to cool for a few weeks. After it is properly cooled, reread, start to finish in one go. If you don’t want to stab your own heart out with a spoon then consider it a success. Make minor adjustments according to taste. Punch the air and do a jig around the kitchen table. Then collapse on the floor in a traumatised heap. (Do NOT look at the state of the house or the sad faces of neglected family members at this stage. They will still be there tomorrow so there’s no hurry on this.)
8 Submit the manuscript to agent or editor. Hopefully they like eating the same things you do. Crossing your fingers at this stage will help. So will more wine.