The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Maker

Rub-a-dub dub
Three scribes in a tub
And who do you think they’d be?
The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker
Which type of writer are thee?

As writers, we love to categorize ourselves (don’t deny it). Personally, I’m a candlestick maker with butcher-like tendencies. What in the name of peanut butter fudge does that mean? Read on…

The Butcher

You write with reckless abandon. You’re not afraid of the delete key. You thrive on major overhauls and rewrites, rearranging scenes, cutting chapters, removing characters and subplots that seemed brilliant at first but now they “get in the way”, or perhaps you just start the whole novel over from scratch. In a first draft, you’re usually an all-out pantser. You write with little to no forethought or direction and hearing/seeing the word “outline” makes you dry heave. You simply let the characters guide you on their journey through your fingertips.

This method produces fast and furious first drafts, and usually requires extensive revising once you type END. But even though it seems to an outsider that you are chaotic, you are actually so well-skilled in your craft that you know exactly when and where to trim the fat, draw and quarter, gut it out, and then stuff it with something more tasty, without having to pre-arrange anything or think about it too much before making a decision. When you feel the right spark, you run with it.

The Baker

If the butcher can be likened to a hare, the baker would be a tortoise. Both finish the race, but at very different speeds. As a baker you “follow a recipe” for success. You thrive on structure and sketch out some form of an outline before the story-writing begins. You’re a plotter. A first draft usually takes months–maybe years–to complete as you carefully measure out all your ingredients and mix them together just so, making sure you don’t miss a step or accidentally blend when you should have gently folded. You can’t remember where “delete” or “backspace” is on your keyboard (hint: they’re the only keys covered in perma-dust).

Once you’ve typed END, you let it bake. When your internal timer goes off you then “test” your manuscript, reading through the whole thing, and mark the spots that need fixing: gooey centers (underdeveloped characters), lumps (plot holes), burnt edges (pacing errors), etc. Your edits are methodical and calculated. Butchers kind of scare you with their whack ’em hack ’em ways, but, let’s face it, you annoy them with your analytical approach. It’s a good thing we have one more writerly type to keep the peace.

The Candlestick Maker

For you, the process of writing is just as enjoyable as the end product. You let the story dictate what twists and turns to take, but you also have guidelines in place to keep things from going astray. Candlesticks must have a certain form to hold a pillar of melting wax without tumbling or singing, but you also recognize their need for beauty as a centerpiece. You don’t force it. You ride the inspiration whenever and however it hits. Sometimes you’re surfing a tidal wave, and other times you’re paddling across a still pond. Either way, you’re always working.

When you type END, you take a moment to celebrate and then embrace the next step. You carve a new notch here, polish a knobby end there. You have no time limit, but you also don’t waste time. You are highly organized, yet extremely flexible. You understand why the butchers and bakers feel so strongly about their techniques because you’re a little of both, and you’re likely the person in any given writers’ forum with the most “do whatever works for you” comments. You’re an artist and a laborer, and you know how to provide a light for others in a dark place.

No matter how you categorize yourself, no matter what your personal approach, no matter whether you are published yet or not–you’re a writer, and don’t let anyone tell you differently. Wishing you all a fabulous weekend ahead, and a very productive final two months of 2010!

photo courtesy of shugs on deviantart;

Lydia’s blog for writers: The Sharp Angle
Lydia on twitter: @lydia_sharp


About Lydia Sharp

Lydia Sharp (@lydia_sharp) is a YA novelist and an Assistant Editor with Entangled Publishing. She has been a contributor to Writer Unboxed since 2010. For all the places you can connect with Lydia, and find her books, please visit her website.


  1. says

    Great analogy! I’d always thought of myself as something of a miner, underground, chipping away methodically and dutifully every day because it’s my job, even thought the light at the end of the tunnel always seems so far and unattainable.
    Sharon Bially´s last blog post ..Why All the Guilt

  2. says

    This is one of the best blog posts on writing I have ever read.

    You nailed me, as no one ever has. I’m a candlestick maker. And I can identify friends who are butchers and bakers. There are strengths in every style (of course, that confirms me as the candlestick maker)

    The biggest factor for me in writing is to remember that writing (even fiction and humor) flow from a life. I need to make sure I’m living the life I intend. Writing is part of that life, but not all.

    For out of the overflow of the heart, we speak.
    Cassandra Frear´s last blog post ..Window Views on the Holidays

  3. Janice Hardy says

    Great post! I love how you broke this down, and it makes perfect sense. I’m a candlestick maker for sure.

  4. says

    @Sharon – I like your analogy, too! Except I’m claustrophobic so it kind of scares me.

    @Benoit – Not bad at all. :) Just keep your cleaver to yourself and everything will be fine.

    @Laurel, Janice, & Deb – Thanks!

    @Cassandra – I’m blushing. Thank you so much for your kind words and insights. I bet you make some really beautiful candlesticks. ;)

    @Terry – I agree. The term “pantser” brings back horrible flashbacks from my junior high days.

    @allreb – LOL! Meat pies. Love it. :)

    @Brandi – As someone who sort of knows you and your writing and has seen some of your process in action, I’d say YES, that is exactly what you are. Embrace it.
    Lydia Sharp´s last blog post ..Reality Check- Gimme a Break

  5. says

    awesome, Lydia :)

    This is so true. I can find myself in those, which is really neat.

    I’m a butcher, with a few hints of candle-stick maker, but mostly the former. ha.

    Probably means I’d be good at writing gory horror, huh? ;)
    Liz´s last blog post ..On The Value of Valueless Contests

  6. says

    I enjoyed this post. I definitely started out as a butcher but the process became too chaotic, so next time I tried baking. That was too methodical for me, so now I’m working with the candlestick making method, and that seems to suit.
    Petrea´s last blog post ..PDP-PPM Books Contest- week 2

  7. says

    I’m a candlestick maker. I always start with an outline because I like having an idea of where I’m headed, but I allow room for the characters and story to go off on their own and I just follow. Sometimes the most exciting parts of the story are the ones that are unplanned and unexpected, even for the writer!

    I do so admire those butchers and bakers, though!
    Laura Marcella´s last blog post ..Five for Friday- Best Villains in Childrens Literature

  8. says

    Definitely a Candlestick Maker. Definitely. I think. On second thought…hmm. Which do you think I am, Lydia? I’m thinking Candlestick Maker. Pretty sure. I think.

    Also, great analogies. Illustrations are always an awesome way to teach, and these are some awesome illustrations. :)

  9. says

    Great post. I love the descriptions! I’m a baker that’s evolving slowly toward candlemaking. :)

    I think it’s not so much about labels, as understanding your own process, and being all right with that. No “type” is inherently better than another. Most writers I know are so fascinated with how other people do it, because they have trouble with their own writing, that they don’t seem to look at what’s actually working for them, and what isn’t.
    Cathy Yardley´s last blog post ..The Kiss Test Interview

  10. says

    Lydia, this was fun! I am definitely a candlestick maker, which is a much nicer moniker than my usual “procrastipantser”. LOL

    I am definitely one of those “do what works for you”, since when I try a method that doesn’t work, work doesn’t get done!
    Donna Cummings´s last blog post ..All The Way to 50K!

  11. Maine Character says

    This was SO MUCH better than reading one of those personality type books. I’m a candlestick maker, but I often forget where I put them.

  12. says

    Omigod, I LOVE this. One of the best descriptions of writing types that I’ve seen. I used to be a butcher, then I tried to be a baker, but now at last I know: I’m a candlestick maker. And you’re right, haha, I totally tell people to embrace whatever they are. I mean, there’s room in the tub for all of us, right?
    Kristan´s last blog post ..3 keys to storytelling

  13. says

    @Laura – You took the words right out of my head. I structure an outline ahead of time, too, but it’s still quite flexible and has a lot of room for unexpected details.

    @Joe – Actually, I think you’re a butcher with a bent toward baking once the first draft is done. You slow-roast your revisions on a second draft, and then you’re done. I don’t think the phrase “third draft” exists in your world.

    @Cathy – Good point. It’s easy to analyze everyone but yourself.

    @Donna – Procrastipantser? Them’s fightin’ words. ;)

    @maine character – LOL! Glad you liked it.

    @Jan – I’m surprised, too. I thought most people would go with butcher. *shrugs* Hey, whatever works. (spoken like a true candlestick maker. haha.)

    @Tracey – LOL! Thanks. :)

    @Jessica – You’re in good company here, apparently. Don’t be jealous of butchers just because they work fast, though. Revisions can be brutal for them.

    @Kristan – Yes! I like the way you think.
    Lydia Sharp´s last blog post ..Reality Check- Gimme a Break

  14. says

    I love this analogy.

    I have to start as the baker, but then I slip into more of a butcher role. I need to know there’s enough story to make a novel but I don’t have to slavishly stick to the recipe.

    I guess there’s probably two types of bakers. Those who want the same result every time and those who don’t mind a little variety in the product.

  15. says

    I’m definitely a candlestick maker. I plot first – sometimes loosely, sometimes tightly – then fly by the seat of my pants as the action unfolds.

    Loved this post!
    Stacey W´s last blog post ..NaNoYeahRiMo

  16. says

    Nicely done!
    I think I’m kind of a “candle-butcher”, if that makes any sense. I usually let the story take me where it will, but I like to have at least a general idea of the road I’m on.
    Can’t do outlines, though. They just don’t work for me.
    Brad´s last blog post ..Kids- Dont Try This At HomeEver

  17. says

    Based on these, I’m so much a baker I practically invented the oven.

    The only part I don’t agree on: My “delete” and “backspace” get more work than any other key. Since I’m so critical about the words I use, I tend to rewrite single sentences over and over and over until they work for me. I should probably physically remove these keys from my keyboard.
    Al´s last blog post ..When your basement gets weird

  18. Laura Drake says

    It’s hard to find a new way to show an old thing – well done!

    The Candlestick Maker.