This may seem like a weird analogy, but hear me out because I think it has a lot of merit. Writing is like baking a cake, in many ways, with books being the end result. Books are cake. We have all eaten some cake well before trying to bake one and therefore are exposed to what cake is and how delicious it can be before we even think of making our own. Many people enjoy cake without ever having the desire to make one. This is why I am comparing the consumption of cake to reading.
We learn to read before we learn to write and all writers fall in love with storytelling through reading before they ever desire to create their own stories. Reading is kind of like research, just like eating cake can be research. You can of course simply enjoy the cake without making note of anything, but bakers will look for what makes the cake good or bad or figure out why they or others like it. The same goes for writers. We read extensively and often will break a book down to figure out how it works. We read a lot of different authors, genres, etc. to better know how to craft a good story. Bakers try different cakes to experience the different flavor combinations, density, icing styles, etc.
Through eating cake, bakers can study and learn all there is to know about cakes and what makes them great. They will know why some cakes are more popular than others but they also have their own taste. They may think a chocolate cake combined with chocolate icing is too sweet. They may prefer a white cake with fruit filling. There are cakes for different occasions or moods and, though we do have favorites, it is very hard to eat the same thing over and over without mixing things up every once in a while.
Exploring the possibilities of cake through eating is essential and can be done without ever having learned what a recipe is.
Finding the Best Recipe
Recipes are great. They are structure and, if followed correctly, will produce what they promise. It is best to follow a recipe when first learning how to bake a cake because you learn the basics. After several attempts, there will likely be a few mistakes such as adding too much flower or forgetting the butter or accidentally using baking soda versus baking powder. You learn what each ingredient adds to the cake and how to tweak recipes to get the kind of cake you are wanting. After many attempts, you’ll have the basics down and may start experimenting. You’ll also know exactly how long to bake the cake to make sure it doesn’t dry out.
This is where many essential lessons are learned. First, not all cakes will come out exactly as you plan. You may picture a perfect three-tier cake with a cool icing pattern but may end up with some distorted Leaning Tower of Pisa. Secondly, baking cakes is a lot of work. Because you realize the hard work that goes into baking cakes, you now better appreciate the great cakes you get to eat. You are also able to determine why you don’t like some cakes. Not just the easy reason, such as the icing and cake combo or ratio doesn’t seem right, but specific reasons like they didn’t use enough eggs. You realize that a lot of the early work in learning to bake ends up with a lot of cakes in the trash. Many aspiring bakers may give up at this point. They realize the work needed to become a master of this craft, and they either are too impatient or too lazy to perfect their practice. Those who stick with it will eventually be able to make the cake they always dreamed of, and you are still baking.
This is when you move to the fun stuff. You have learned recipes and know exactly what is needed to bake the cakes you want to make. You are free to deviate from the recipes or make your own. After all, following a recipe is simply baking a cake someone else created. You can start experimenting and bake some really good cakes. Sometimes you will try things that don’t work and need to start over. You may try making cupcakes and venture into a few baking items outside of just cakes. You will explore and continue to learn. The important thing is that you are still baking. You are still creating and are learning how to make great cakes.
You are now a baker in your own right. You love baking and you want to make cakes forever. But that isn’t enough. Baking takes a lot of time and effort and you want others to eat and enjoy your cake.
(I could go into choices of ingredients and cake pans and styles and icing and prolong this analogy forever, but I’ll wrap things up soon.)
Some bakers are okay making cakes out of a box instead of really getting into it and learning how to bake from scratch. Some bakers perfect their recipe and make the same cake over and over. Both of these bakers do well and many people eat their cakes. But you want to make many different cakes and you want people to eat them. Letting others eat the cake can be hard at first because you put a lot of work into it and want people to enjoy it.
You may try a local bake sale. You may send some cakes out to shops to see if they are interested in selling your cakes in their stores. you may get responses like “this cake is good, but it just isn’t right for our store” or “we are interested in your cakes, can you send us another sample”. You may get a few irrational responses like “this is the worst cake I’ve ever eaten” and even though you know your cake is good, and everyone’s taste buds are different, that response will dig in a bit and try to convince you that you are not a good baker. This fear of rejection may prevent you from getting into the kitchen, but you will later realize that you actually make great cakes and, yeah, some didn’t turn out perfect, but you know your efforts aren’t wasted and that one prick is an outlier. Your cakes have value and you will persist, because you know that you will eventually bake a cake that will change someone’s life.
You keep baking and make several cakes that you know are phenomenal, but for some reason no one wants to buy them. You keep baking and keep trying to find the people who will like these awesome cakes you made. You start to wonder if your cakes will ever get the appreciation they deserve. You know a lot of people will love them if they only give them a try. But also, in the end, even though you have tasted your own cake thousands of times, you will be happy knowing that you made that cake. It was the cake you needed and no one else will make that exact cake.
Then the dream happens. Someone has tried your cake and they like it. They commission you to bake a cake. Not just any cake either, but a wedding cake. You accept because it is something you always wanted. You bust your ass and make the perfect cake. It gets served and a majority of the guests like it, some don’t, and a few rave about it which lands you with a new request. You are ecstatic and accept. Then you realize you have to repeat all of that hard work to make that great cake. But it can’t be the same cake because this is for a different wedding. They want some of the same flavors, but they want some new ones. They want a unique cake. So you begin again.
Every so often, while working hard in the kitchen, you realize that you are now baking cakes for a living and fully appreciate this. Other times, you see other cakes or eat a cake that is so good that you realize you are an amateur who will never become a master cake-maker. You still compare your cakes to those made by people who have been baking for decades, and you need to remember all the trashed cakes and mistakes you made in the beginning in order to realize how far you have come.
You continue baking because you love to bake cakes. Even if you don’t sell many or even any, you will keep baking because you love it even when you curse your passion while standing over a ruined cake or dropping an egg on the floor. You keep baking and you keep eating cake.
Now I bring the analogy home and use it against myself. I have been eating cake for years. I first enjoyed cake when I was a wee lad and have devoured hundreds of cakes since. Large cakes, small cakes, trays of cupcakes, you name it. I’m still trying different cakes. I started looking at recipes at a fairly young age, but I never really started baking cakes until I was older. Even now, I have not made a full cake. I have part of a batter made. I need to determine what else it needs before I put it in the oven. I’ve started a new cake and hope to finish it in a reasonable time. I hope it turns out well and that a few people will try it. I have made one cupcake that I am proud of which did get sold to a store.
I spend a lot more time eating cake than I do in the kitchen, but I will one day make a great cake that others will enjoy. Hopefully, I will get to make many. I only need to ignore my doubt and just start baking.