Cooking a Book

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

There’s this guy. He’s an adrenaline junkie. The woman’s a massage therapist. They meet and… and… and… well of course they fall in love. That’s a given. But it won’t last (or will it?). And then there’s something about traveling from Montana to Maine and jumping out of a million airplanes. His name’s Elias… no J.P., and hers is Ellie. No. Allison. And of course they both have secrets—his involves feeling responsible for someone’s death, maybe an ex-lover. And hers…well that’s more hazy. Maybe something about her pioneer grandmother. That’s it. Then I’ll write a dual storyline. Yeah. That’s good.

I’m farther along than it looks, but that’s kind of my new work-in-progress in a nutshell, in the stage I like to call “cooking.” With a couple of novels under my belt (pre-published, querying, in the drawer, etc.), this is a familiar feeling. The incubation, idea stage, when everything’s running through my mind a mile a minute, but nothing’s quite jelled enough to write. Soon. But not yet.

This cooking, pre-writing, is not really planning, not outlining. I’m cooking, stirring, tasting everything in my mind. When it’s ready to write, to commit a first draft to paper, I’ll know it. Until then, here’s my recipe for cooking a book.

I’m cooking, stirring, tasting everything in my mind. When it’s ready to write, to commit a first draft to paper, I’ll know it. Until then, here’s my recipe for cooking a book.

Take the dog to the vet. Like I did this morning. I love our vet. Renee has become a friend. Our lab Abby is what you’d call a frequent flyer. She has terrible arthritis, is on a zillion (after today, a zillion and one) meds, and she is the darling of the vet office. Today, since I was cooking, I felt comfortable staying as long as Renee would let me so I could listen to her stories—mine her for stories. She tells great stories, which of course gets me thinking.

(Mini) renovate the bathroom. Last week before our daughter and three friends breezed through for a visit (recent college grads, they met up in Maine for a mini-reunion), my husband decided we needed to “spruce up” the bathroom. This quickly escalated into not just painting but re-plastering, grouting, and gorilla-gluing loose floor tiles (don’t ask). This made me realize no one in my book will ever renovate anything. Not ever.

Get stung by (a lot of) hornets. Yes, this really happened. Turns out my husband decided to test that old idiom “don’t poke a hornet’s nest” but forgot to tell me until I was on the porch surrounded by a swarm of angry hornets. Thankfully I was only stung eight times. But it did give me the opportunity to hone my screaming skills. You can be sure the new WIP will include a dose of screaming. And many hornets.

Go to the dentist. Followed closely by go to the endodontist who told me I needed a “re-treatment.” This is when you’ve had one root canal that has failed and fluid has leaked (where or from what I’m still not quite clear) and now the bone is infected…and, yeah, don’t ask, just suffice to say it’s not quite as serious as it sounds and I’m on antibiotics. Although I can almost guarantee there will not be a dentist in this particular WIP, I do love going to the dentist because I overhear all the stories from other patients—after all, listening is all I can do—and it never fails that I pick up a line or two of dialogue and maybe even a small side story.

Socialize for 10 straight days. That’s two lunches, one dinner, two Google chats, and five coffees. Turns out that the homestretch of finishing a novel is rather time consuming and isolating. I’m in catch up mode. Inevitably, in addition to being great fun, the socializing always stimulates more ideas for fiction—like this time, my friend Kate gave me lots to think about (she’s a massage therapist).

Binge watch series TV. Finished up The Guardian (love Simon Baker), now watching Royal Pains. Listen, it sounds like fun, but I’m actually doing really important work: gleaning dialogue, cleaning out the brain waves for writing, seeing what works and what doesn’t for plots, secrets, characters, etc.

Take a ton of photos. Photograph sunsets, sunrises, foggy days, and lots and lots of boats. While I’m taking photos—usually at my favorite town landing, one town over—I talk to all the lobstermen, the people fishing off the dock, sailors setting out for day sails, the Harbormaster, and basically anyone else who has a story to tell.

I may have forgotten an ingredient or two, but that’s my basic recipe. Feel free to borrow it, modify it, make it your own, because I’m almost done. These days as I click away on the camera, I can almost hear the ticking of the mind-timer, too. Soon, the leisurely binge watching and photography and even socializing will come screeching to a halt. Visits with Renee will turn all business, my root canal will be healed up, all that will be left of the hornet stings will be a little itchiness, and that will mean just one thing. J.P. and Allison and all their supporting characters are ready to start their lives.

The story will be (more or less) neatly snapped into place, cooked enough to start writing, anyway. And I’ll be settled comfortably at the dining room table or maybe in a coffee shop—it won’t really matter—because I’ll be happily knee deep in story land.

What about you? What’s your recipe for cooking a book?

0

About Julia Munroe Martin

Julia Munroe Martin (@wordsxo) is a writer and blogger who lives in an old house in southern coastal Maine. Julia's other passion is photography, and if she's not writing at the dining room table or a local coffeeshop, you'll likely find her on the beach or dock taking photos. Julia writes The Empty Nest Can Be Murder mystery series as J. M. Maison.

Comments

  1. says

    Umm, smells like a tasty dish–I mean tome–to me, Julia. :) As one who also enjoys cooking, appreciate your ‘cooking a book’ recipe. A little tweak here or there, but all the ingredients in place. My process is similar in many ways. Although must admit, when I have those days when the bread, er, the book, is slow to rise, it helps me to remember patience and perseverance are important seasonings to be added to the mix. Thanks for sharing! :)

    0
    • says

      Thank you for the reminder that “patience and perseverance are important seasonings to be added to the mix.” I really don’t consider myself a very patient person and I admit to a touch of restless wanting to get going!

      0
  2. says

    Another timely post for me. I just finished the “consuming and isolating” stretch of finishing a novel. I had dinner with one friend, coffee with another, and visited my mother and sisters. I went to the dentist and got a physical. Yesterday, I got my eyes checked. And I got the jist of my new prologue while waiting for the drops to kick in. Meanwhile, scenes and snippets of the next story keep punching their way into my thoughts.
    So I can tell my husband that I’m cooking a book, which is why I don’t feel much like cooking dinner. He’ll love that. Ihear you about the binge episode-watching, too. I’m watching Glades from the beginning ( I’ve seen the last two seasons only) and am seeing how the writers constructed the story arc. Fascinating, and most instructive. Thanks, Julia, for making me feel normal!

    0
    • says

      Well, Susan, thank you for making me feel normal! I know exactly what you mean about not feeling much like cooking dinner, too… I alternate between new ideas for the new book and missing the old (does that happen to you, too?). p.s. Maybe I need to check out Glades :)

      0
    • says

      Well, Barry, I didn’t want to say this in the post, but some of my screaming was directed toward MEH — him standing nearby with the stick and all. He redeemed himself the next day by wiping out the nest in a more sensible way (with a trip to the hardware store). But yes. I’m on alert for the bright ideas ;)

      0
  3. says

    I’m a very slow cook – I seem to go for slo-cooked stews more than anything else. I enjoyed reading about all your ingredients but hope you don’t have to do any more research involving Hornets as I suspect that your screaming skills are already well honed!

    0
    • says

      I love the use of “slow cook.” Interesting that some of my stories are more of the “fast food” variety, but this one is definitely a slow-cooking stew. And yes, I will definitely hold off on the hornet screaming research. Well honed indeed.

      0
  4. says

    Fun post. Maine sounds like a lovely place to write stories. I suppose I don’t really have a recipe. I get hit with a story and just start writing. I have to get 80 or so pages out of my system and then I can go back and do the cleaning.

    0
    • says

      That’s really interesting, Brianna! I have had those kinds of stories as well — that have seemingly hit me out of nowhere and I just have to write — love that so much. I guess this one is more of the slow cook variety!

      0
  5. says

    Hi Julia,

    A good post on the importance of living – writing can be so intense it’s easy to push away the more important aspects of life around us – the very things that make for rich stories!

    My recipe for cooking a book is similar. I spend a long time thinking throughout my process – before, during, after. I find most of the actual writing happens away from the computer, in fact, so when I get down to go through another step on a project all the background work comes to the surface.

    0
    • says

      I would agree with you 100% about most writing happening away from the computer, John. I’m just the same. Thanks for reading and your comment. Hope your writing is cooking away.

      0
  6. says

    Fun post, Julia. I’m in the cooking phase as well. (Or at least the
    picking-out-the-best-ingredients phase.) Best wishes for your final dish!

    PS. Gorilla Glue is a miracle product, isn’t it? ;)

    0
  7. says

    That’s the only time I’ve ever heard anyone say, “Thankfully I was only stung eight times.” You must be a true optimist, Julia. (Or have a drier sense of humor than I thought — hard to tell without inflection.) I go through this phase of writing too, and I love your terminology for it. I’ve always called it “percolating,” like coffee, but “cooking” has a nice ring to it. I’m glad you see the value in wandering and relaxing and thinking; sometimes we try to rush that because it feels less productive, but I think it’s an important part of the process. Great post!

    0
    • says

      Percolating, I like that Annie! And to tell you the truth, my “only 8” was partly sarcasm but mostly grateful. I had this vision, as I stood on the porch surrounded by that swarm, of being one of those people in the newspaper who you read about who perishes after being stung by so many hornets. Relieved it was “only 8” haha. (AND thinking how it can work into the book, haha) Glad you can relate and definitely see the value of thinking!

      0
  8. says

    This is so exactly how it happens. My problem, while I was writing novels, was that I spent way too much time cooking and not enough time getting on with it. Great post, Julia!

    0