Writing is a lot like spaghetti sauce

…or it should be.

One of the few things I cook well is spaghetti sauce. I’m convinced the reason it’s good is because it’s a day-long process. I make it in the morning and let it simmer all day long so the ingredients can blend together to create a symphony of flavor that sends the soul directly into NirvanaLand.

Ok, so I think you know where I’m going with this.

Your writing needs that same kind of simmering. Most of the queries I see are from writers whose stories are still a bit raw and unrefined. It’s natural to be excited to complete a dream – writing a book. A lot of thought, time, and energy went into the process, so I can see why authors would be in a rush to get it into the hands of editors and agents.

The problem with this is that the manuscript reads like my spaghetti sauce tastes after only a half-hour of cooking. The flavors haven’t meshed together yet and I can taste the individual spices. Now, the beagle lacks a discerning palate and would happily change out her designer doggie chewies for my unrefined sauce. But she stands alone in this. Everyone else walks away muttering and clawing at their tongues.

What is your objective?

At first blush, this question regarding objective is simple to answer. “To write a great book Pricey. Duh.” But you really want to go deeper than that…be more analytical.

For instance, I know that I have to wait 8 hours before my spaghetti sauce has reached that moment of blended yummy-ness. My objective is to allow the wine to cook down so it’s more in the background, allowing the garlic to play nicely with all the other spices I tossed in there.

What about your story? Analyze your objectives.

  • Do you have a satisfactory ending?
  • Are your characters well-developed?
  • Do we care about them?
  • Is your plot effective and unique?
  • How ’bout the plot twists? Are they unexpected and enticing?
  • How well does the story flow?
  • Double check the pacing
  • Does your story have a strong, enticing voice?
  • Is there a message you were trying to impart, and did you accomplish this?
  • And what about that word count? Did we tip the scales at 250,000 words?

The objectives list can go on forever. My point is that authors who write – read – blow it out the door haven’t taken the time to consider all these elements because the words are still fresh in their mind, and they’re more susceptible to reading them as they intended them – not as they actually are. In a word, they lack objectivity.

The Pantry

So how do we achieve objectivity? We writers need the gift of a second look, and the time for that isn’t when we’ve just written The End. For that, I offer The Pantry. My kitchen has a giant pantry – and I do mean giant. It’s like a small room. It was one of the main selling points when we were house hunting a thousand years ago. It holds everything.

So whenever we have something that has no place to go, we toss it in the pantry. This is the ideal place to stick a freshly-written-hot-off-the-press-I-so-writerly-rock manuscript. I remember when I stuck my novel in there. Oh, how fabo I was. My writing was incroyable! Donovan’s Paradigm sat in The Pantry for a month while I dined on my brilliance. There is lay…simmering. When I pulled it out and read it, I was convinced I’d lost my brain to aliens.

Who dared write this utter crap? Tasted exactly like my attempts at Beef Bourguignon. After that spell in The Pantry, I could see my story as my potential readers might. And this allowed me to go in and make the necessary changes because I had clarity.

This perspective of letting our writing simmer in The Pantry make us better editors. And in the long run, this sets us up for success, not instant death rejection.

Be the spaghetti sauce. Channel that wine and fresh oregano. Behold the fresh tomatoes.

Now, who’s got the garlic bread?

7 Responses to Writing is a lot like spaghetti sauce

  1. Bill Webb says:

    Tomato sauces give me acid reflux. What else ya got?

  2. Literary Pepto Bismol, Bill.

  3. Lauren says:

    Now I want the recipe. Actually, what I want is for you to send me some of that sauce–NOW.

  4. Louise Curtis says:

    Writing is like spaghetti sauce because it. . .

    is difficult for visitors to consume politely.

    is better with a LOT of wine.

    leaves similar stains to massive blood loss.

    Louise Curtis

  5. Geoff N says:

    Great stuff, Lynn!

  6. tbrosz says:

    Also, if you don’t balance everything just right and keep track of what you’re doing, the whole thing slides easily off your plate in one, big, sloppy lump and lands on the floor where it goes in all directions in a gigantic mess and you practically have to pick it up one slippery strand at a time.

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