beginning with bread…

I made bread last night – great bread, the kind worth risking burnt fingers to grab straight out of the oven and into the proximity of something buttery before it cools for more than a moment – and it occurred to me, as I was licking soft crumbs off my fingers, how much making bread is like writing. At least the way I like to make bread. And the way I like to write. Here’s what they have in common: spontaneity plus structure. Recipes can make for enlightening reading, but in 3 1/2 decades of reading and cooking and baking, I’m not sure I’ve ever followed one exactly. I know that I need flour and liquid and leavening; there are basic rules of culinary chemistry to be followed. I am also guided by the mood of the occasion I am baking for – whether a warm and huggably round loaf for my own comfort, or a saffron-tinted challah for a family sabbath, or something fun and fruit-studded for a picnic potluck. But I can’t help tinkering, following my own instincts, going for some element of surprise and originality. I’m just not happy if I don’t. In the short term, the results are usually wonderful, occasionally dreadful, and sometimes simply ok. But in the long term, the payoff is in ongoing discovery – being able to trust myself to learn, adapt, and succeed. And I think that what I produce becomes exponentially more interesting over time, as each new leap is informed by the ones that have gone before. I’m finding more and more that the same is true of writing. Guidance is invaluable (and thus my list of favorite writing books is ever-growing), but the true excitement comes from seeing what I can get myself to do – can I create something that makes me smile, something that is memorable, something that has my soul in it, something that takes me somewhere I’ve never quite been before? The more I write like I bake – as if by doing so I get to experience an ordinary yet miraculous delight, the more I think I can, and the more I learn from the ongoing process, whatever the immediate outcome.

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