Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Churning out books

It’s November? Really? Are you sure?How did that happen? I’m sure it was just New Year – summer at the very least. And then I wake up this morning and Halloween is over – and it’s November.

Help!

I have this dreadful feeling of going down for the third time right now – one of those TBD (To Be Done) list that never ever seems to get any shorter, only longer, a book that has the Crows of Doubt circling around my head, cawing and gloating – they told me that one day I would be Found Out as the Pretender I am and that Kate Walker the writer is really someone else – which is just what I need with the writing weekend in Wales coming up fast . . . . A newly published author asked me on the other week whether established authors – she kindly termed me a ‘best-seller’ still get assailed by the Crows of Doubt, the dreadful ‘this sucks’ feeling. Are you kidding? I think that’s part of being a writer. If it doesn’t happen at least once in a book then - well, this might sound contrary – but if it doesn’t happen then I worry. I’ve learned not to really trust the books that ‘write themselves’. They can be too self-indulgent. To keep that edge on your work, a writer needs to avoid complacency, that feeling of ‘Oh I can do this, no problem.’

One of the things I hate most about other people who comment on the fact that I write romances for Harlequin Mills & Boon is when those ignorant ones – the ones who know nothing about what it takes to write a book – the ones who see the uniform style covers lined up on the shelves and think they all have uniform contents - the ones who never bother to look inside. – when they say ‘Oh are you still churning out those ‘little love-books?’ It makes it sound like a mindless, non stop process, one that needs no skill or even attention.

But perhaps they’re right – churning, the technique of making butter from milk is not the simple process it seems. Certainly not if you want to do it the old-fashioned, by hand – the skilful way. Take a look at this:

Making Butter - the old fashioned way - Recipe instructions by Rose Adamson (born 1914)

Hmm –
Writing – the Butter Making Way –


Butter making
Step 1: Collecting the cream: You must first get the cream. You do this by letting the raw whole milk sit for several hours. The cream will naturally float to the top. You can skim this off the top of the milk.

Writing - recipe by Kate Walker Born 19summat
Collecting the idea: You must first get an idea. You do this by letting your brain just sit for several hours – days - weeks. The idea will eventually float to the top, or you may have to dig around for a bit.

Step 2: Souring the cream: As you can imagine, our cream was already quite sour after a week of gathering the cream in a root cellar that didn't get any colder than 60 degrees F. If it was in the Winter and the cream hadn't soured, we brought it in the house and set it on the counter for 24 hours so it could begin to sour.

Writing: letting the idea grow and develop. This can happen naturally if you have time or you may have, as the butter makers did, bring it into the ‘warmth’ to try to make it develop faster – brainstorming, debate – even a little wine might help at this stage

Step 3: Get the cream temperature right: The butter will not separate from the cream if it is too hot or too cold

Writing – start in the right place. The book will not grow in the right way if you open it too early, or too late - too hot or too cold.

Step 4: Churn your cream: Put the cream in a butter churn. Do not fill it over half full. . Depending on conditions it could take you from 1/2 hour to forever! When one hand gets tired, switch! A different feel is one of the indications that it is getting done. It got thicker, then shortly thereafter the butter separated out. You can also take a look inside and see what progress you are making

Writing – write the damn thing. This is the process known as BICHOK (bum in chair – Hands on keyboard) and yes, depending on conditions, this can take from days to forever

Step 5: Separate the butter from the buttermilk. Carefully scoop the floating butter off the top of the buttermilk and place it in a bowl.

Writing separate the pages/scenes/dialogue that actually tell the story from the ‘deathless prose’ where your Muse ran wild but never really said anything. As Jennifer Cruisie says – how many of your darlings are you prepared to murder to get it right.

Step 6: Remove all the remaining buttermilk from the butter: As the buttermilk comes to the surface pour it out of the bowl.

Writing – look at what you’re left with when you’ve pruned the book down to the real core – the butter – realise you can do something with this after all. Make sure each scene moves the plot along, that the dialogue does too.

Step 7: Wash the butter. Note: It is important to work all the buttermilk out of the butter as it will go rancid if you don't.

Writing - edit - polish – rewrite, rework. Tighten any sagging middle. If necessary rearrange scenes so that the development of the relationship works best. It is important to work all the scenes that say nothing out of the book as it will become heavy and boring if you don't.

Step 8: Add salt: Sprinkle in 1 teaspoon of salt per pound of butter and mix it in. Then taste it. If it is too salty for your taste, you can put in more cold water and work it through the butter as you did before. The salt will gradually migrate into the water.

Writing - If you’re lucky enough to have an editor their objective eye can be very helpful at this stage of things. She will show you where you need a little more tension – or less - where you need to ‘tweak ‘ the amount of plot/conflict/emotion/seasoning – and like the butter making process she will just say ‘it’s too salty’ – it’s up to you, the author, to ‘work it through’ until it tastes just right.

Step 9: Put in molds: Butter molds have false bottoms for pushing the molded butter out of the mold. Pack the butter into the mold, being sure to get rid of any air bubbles.

Writing – Print out a final copy – making sure the word count is correct and all the pages are in the right order.

Deliver the product to the market!

Hmm - yes, well maybe I won’t object to that ‘churning’ phrase any more. It appplies more to what writers do than the commentators mean- it just shows that they don;t understand the process of making good butter either!

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

CarolC said...

It's comforting to know the crows of doubt even visit someone as accomplished as you Kate.

Love the butter analogy. I've been enjoying a lot of home cooking lately but I think I'll stick to the writing version of that recipe.

Hope your throat is better.

Michelle Styles said...

These things are much harder than they sound. Churn away and be proud.
I know the book will be great!

My word verification for the day goquw Go Quick Writing?

Doll Weller said...

It is SO reassuring to hear such a successful author is also blighted by the Crows of Doubt. It gives hope to us all!
Doll.

Anne McAllister said...

I've just written a blog post in the throes of "Beginning" a book where I talk about feeling all that wondrous possibility. But the flip side is exactly what you describe here -- and what I suffered through with Spence and Sadie for far longer than I want to admit.

The "book that writes itself" exists. But it is such a rare and wonderful and fleeting thing that all I can do is sit back and say, "Wow." I certainly would never take it for granted. It's just too amazing when it happens. And why it happens God only knows.

word verification is too difficult even to contemplate tonight. I don't think Babelfish could handle it. I almost can't. nbdoxhsw

Kate Walker said...

Ah Carol - you better believe it - those nasty crows can visit anyone any time. The butter thing is interesting isn't it - i have a whole new respetc for 'churning things out' now.

Michelle - thank you for your confidence - I'll just keep churning. Experience tells me that that's the only way.

Hello Doll and thank you for visiting. I'm glad to help! Show me an author who says they've never been assailed by those Crows and I'll not believe them. Good luck with your own writing.

Anne - yes, I've been reading your post on beginnings - there is both a wonder and a dread at the start - all things are possible - but it also seems a long hill to climb. Some books do occasionally take flight but others are blood sweat and tears jobs - and this is one of them. Right now anyway.
I'm not even going to try to make anything out of gpjexe - perhaps it's the next modern version of a jpeg ?

 

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