Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The old author as new blogger

My 8th book, Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Cookies, will be out this fall. I'm excited to be finished with it. Now it's been "suggested" (didn't I put that delicately?) that the best way to celebrate the completion of a new book is to blog about it.

What a surprise to learn that starting a blog is more intimidating than writing a book. It’s immediate. Where is the editor to prevent one from making a fool of oneself or committing atrocious grammar? The spontaneity goes against my nature, which is to write (or test) and rewrite (or retest) and rewrite and retest again. To ease into it, I planned a little essay on the creative process. I love to hear any artist (writer, painter, dancer, musician, chef) discuss their work. Even the most mundane details of how they actually do the work has a voyeuristic fascination for me. National Public Radio is a staple in my kitchen. I love Terry Gross and City Arts and Lectures. I planned to cite Malcom Gladwell’s descriptions of artists and their work styles from his New Yorker piece, “Late Bloomers”.

But by the time I sat down to write that essay, I was overcome by my own process. All kitchen counters and the dining room table were covered with labeled samples. The actual work area was a landscape of drips, greasy spatulas, and bowls full of goop flanked by clipboards with handwritten notes coded to match (I hope) the labeled samples. I start a clipboard at the beginning of each project (book, magazine article, client) and after a while I move pages from the clipboard into a binder so I can put tabs on groups of pages to keep some order. I try to remember to date every page and I put the most recent page on top, like a legal brief. I used to be able to have three or four clipboards in play at one time. But lately not so much. After scribbling tasting notes on the wrong clipboard a few times, I refined my process. Now it’s one or possibly two clipboards at a time, and NPR stays on.

I have a reputation for testing. A lot. Anyone who has read or cooked from my books, Bittersweet or Pure Dessert knows this. I thought I was normal until Dianne Jacob described my testing mania in her book, Will Write for Food (a wonderful manual for budding food and cookbook writers, btw). Then I felt self-conscious. But, some times multiple trials are necessary to get flavor, texture, and visuals of a dessert right to begin with. Other times I retest because I’m stubborn or curious. Even when I like my results, I catch myself wondering what would happen if I made this little change, or that one. I love how small details make a difference. “What if this, what if that” is the hallmark of my process and perhaps my greatest professional and artistic asset and also my biggest liability. If I take more time on a recipe than I think I should, I figure it’s an investment for a future project. You can imagine where that leads…

Welcome to my blog, I promise recipes and photos (and shorter posts) in future, but meanwhile check out Malcolm Gladwell’s “Late Bloomers” to find out if you are more like Picasso or more like Matisse.