Writing a novel is easy as baking a cake, isn’t it?

It’s been so, so long since I baked a cake, but with a special friend (and great baker) visiting on short notice last week, I thought, why not? Of course, I can bake a cake.

I used to whip up a teacake, an hour before playgroup, without using the recipe. All it needed was basic ingredients; ones I was sure to have in the cupboard. Easy peasy.

Except the discovery of no caster sugar led to 1. doubt 2. reassessing the plan and 3. compromise. We don’t even use plain white processed sugar nowadays, but raw. A lot coarser than good old caster sugar. Could I even bake a cake with it?

Long story short. While I was utilising the whizbang nut crusher thingy that came with my stick-mixer to pulverise the raw sugar, it occurred to me how much making and baking a cake is like writing a novel.

This analogy banged me over the head harder when I tried to take my teacake out of the oven too early. It’s always such a temptation to send a manuscript out too soon – when it’s still soggy in the middle.

SO I’ve included the recipe for both.

Cinnamon Teacake 1. Gather ingredients ½ cup caster sugar, ¼ cup butter, 1 beaten egg, 1¼ cups sifted s.r. flour, 1/3 – ½ cup milk
Novel 1. Gather idea, characters, setting, world and era in a large bowl. Or set a starting point for pantsers
Teacake 2. Mix/cream butter and caster sugar
Novel: 2. Mix in generous handfuls of conflict, action, motivations
Teacake: 3. Mix in beaten egg
Novel: 3. Mix in several helpings of subplots, themes, imagery, unique metaphors, similes
Teacake: 4. Stir in s.r. flour and milk (one third at a time)
Novel: 4. Stir in scoops of subtext, twists, turning points (add intermittently and build slowly  to climax)
Teacake: 5. Bake in 190 degree oven 25 – 30 minutes
Novel: 5. Rewrite, edit, rewrite, polish until fully cooked
Teacake: 6. Test with skewer
Novel: 6. Test on beta readers, writing or critique group, mss assessor etc.
Teacake: 7. Cool on cake cooler
Novel: 7. Cool and allow to rest several weeks if possible
Teacake: 8. Brush with melted butter, spread one teaspoon combined cinnamon and 2 teaspoons caster sugar
Novel 8. Retest. Repeat steps 5 to 8 through as many drafts as necessary
Teacake: 9. Serve to discerning guests who appreciate a homemade cake (serve with butter on side – optional)
Novel: 9. Submit to well researched publishers who publish your genre, style etc. (Do not serve with sprinkles, I mean sparkles and/or flowery stationery)


For a successful novel, we need to add all the right ingredients, in right measure, just the same as baking a cake. Quantities, method and cooking times in writing can be quite variable. We rarely get the recipe perfect the first time. And though we don’t always have to start again from scratch with a novel if it’s not working, sometimes it can prove better to throw out the entire mix and start again.

Just like baking, we learn through doing. The trickier the recipe, and newer we are to cooking, I mean writing, the more practise and craft we need to learn.

The prize winning recipe is always going to be the one that adds that zing, the unique ingredient that leaves the simple teacake in the slush pile. I know I can bake a teacake, now I’m aiming for the double-chocolate sacher torte.

I’m somewhere between steps 5 and 6, but I’ve tried step 7 several times. Love to hear which step you’re at, and if you’ve ever had to throw out the entire mix and start again.

Gotta love a caring, sharing big brother!


(Postscript: Matt, Sally and Dan, I miss you guys being here to lick the spoon and beaters.)

For the record: I used to make a lot of cakes, THEN, I became a writer. I’m posting some pics from my kid’s birthday cake memory book to prove it. Plus I love any excuse for a trip down memory lane. [Making those cakes was so much fun. My kids loved to pore over the Women’s Weekly Birthday Cake book, weeks ahead, choosing their cakes. Sometimes they picked the next birthday’s a whole year ahead. (Though Raphael came courtesy of Dad’s clever drawing skills.) Funny how much I miss those days. I hope, my darlings, you’re planning to make me lots of cakes or bring treats when I’m old and doddery. Okay, older and more doddery xxx M]

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witheredviolets" alt="witheredviolets">


I love your analogy Chris, but I have to say that it took a backseat after I saw the pictures of your cakes!
My mum used to make us cakes like that for our birthdays, and the most amazing pudding for christmas. She used to ask what we wanted too, and I don’t remember one moment where she doubted if it could be done. There were rockets, clowns, mushrooms with fairies, cars and various animals. To be honest, reading this and seeing your photos made me feel a little sad.
Thank you.

April 13, 2011 at 10:29 am
    christinemareebell" alt="christinemareebell">


    Thanks, Lisa. Yep, it’s amazing what Mums can do, that even Mums didn’t know they could do. Cars and rockets are tricky.

    You’re right that looking back can be a little sad. Sometimes we just want those days back. Thank goodness for memories, and lots of fun times ahead. I’m sure for you, being so creative, designing your own cakes, for any little kidlets that might come along.

    Best, Chris 🙂

    April 13, 2011 at 10:39 am
Jennifer" alt="Jennifer">


Easier! Love your photos and thoughts!

Choose Happiness & Success!

April 13, 2011 at 10:34 am
Corinne Fenton" alt="Corinne Fenton">

Corinne Fenton

I love the analogy between baking and writing and it’s true. I also enjoyed the memories of birthday cakes for the kids.
We celebrated here on Monday for Wade, recalling that Women’s Weekly train, which I baked 20 years ago!!!! I still remember the look on his face, so it’s always worth it.

April 13, 2011 at 12:10 pm
Corinne Fenton" alt="Corinne Fenton">

Corinne Fenton

Oh!!!! I’ve just seen the photo of the echidna cake and it brought memories blooding back of Briana’s bushwalking party. Cake was made and left on the bench – we went out for the night and left the kids with a new babysitter. Next morning the echnida was short of many chocolate spikes!!!!!! (Very hungry babysitter).

April 13, 2011 at 12:13 pm
    christinemareebell" alt="christinemareebell">


    Oh, goodness, before the big day? Not cool. (Very cheeky babysitter.)

    I remember a girlfriend who lovingly made the big space shuttle, and came out the next morning to find the dog had eaten most of it. She had to quickly make a plain cake and whack on some icing and smarties to take to the picnic party. (Very hungry dog.) 🙁

    April 13, 2011 at 2:07 pm
Alison" alt="Alison">


That is fantastic, Chris! I’m a panster and just love the way you’ve compared these two creative endeavours! And your cakes look amazing!

April 14, 2011 at 11:15 am
deescribewriting" alt="deescribewriting">


Great post, Chris,

I loved the analogy. What gorgeous birthday cakes.

The Women’s Weekly Birthday Cake Book brought back a few memories for me too:)


April 14, 2011 at 4:36 pm
    christinemareebell" alt="christinemareebell">


    Thanks, Dee. Glad you liked it.
    I think the WW cookbooks connected a generation, certainly of Mums and kids memories. And a Dad I know who always had to race out for extra decorations when the decorator got a little carried away. I’m not saying who that might have been though. 🙂

    April 15, 2011 at 9:49 am
Lorraine" alt="Lorraine">


I think the stage in cake/writing which works most (for me)- leave it sit for awhile- great analogy- there are so many people we rub shoulders with who want that recipe for book making- just pass it on, it must be a quick mix one! Ha!
My kids loved that w/weekly cake book too.

April 14, 2011 at 4:37 pm
Karen Tyrrell" alt="Karen Tyrrell">

Karen Tyrrell

Hi Chris,
Love your post on the analogy between cake and story recipes. Congratulations. Great thought and research went into this Blog.
Love your cake pics too.

April 14, 2011 at 4:38 pm


Great analogy Chris. Love the cakes too.

April 14, 2011 at 9:51 pm
    christinemareebell" alt="christinemareebell">


    Thanks, Claire.

    Looking back through the memory cake book, I was amazed how many there were. I think I thought it a once off starting early on birthday 1 for #1. Like most things in our house, once is enough to spark the cry “we always do that” and it’s an instant tradition. 🙂


    April 15, 2011 at 9:55 am
katswhiskers" alt="katswhiskers">


You’ve made me sooooo hungry! *wails* And brought back great (and funny/failed) cake memories. I didn’t work from the Woman’s Weekly. Not being particularly arty-creative, for some reason I still had the crazy idea to DIY. That said, most were actually quite pleasing. (I loved the lorikeet I made one year. Was a work of art, if I might say so. :P)

I like your analogy. I’m a simmer/stew writer – which is a lot like your baking. Time is always an important part of my process. (Time away – while the MS quietly simmers in its juices.)

April 15, 2011 at 4:08 pm
    Chris" alt="Chris">


    Oooh, Kat, a lorikeet. How gorgeous! (Sounds to me like you’re pretty creative.) Love the image of your mss simmering in its own juices.

    I had a couple of not quite failed, but messy cakes, thanks to some wee fingers exploring the icing when no one was looking. Especially one swimming pool on top of a ship that, no one knew how, spread over the deck as if someone large had jumped in and splashed the water. (The culprit should’ve washed his face after taste testing 🙂 )


    April 15, 2011 at 4:49 pm
Alison Reynolds" alt="Alison Reynolds">

Alison Reynolds

Gorgeous memories and lovely cakes.
What stage are you up to in your baking/writing with the novel?
Maybe we all have to express ourselves creatively, and cakes were an easy way when the kids were small.
My best cake was a huge digger. Spaghetti sticks were wonderful things.
My son still remembers it with awe. I look back and wonder how I thought I could even do it.
Hope you’re baking a cake this weekend. Suitably decorated of course.

April 15, 2011 at 8:20 pm
    christinemareebell" alt="christinemareebell">


    Wow, Alison, your digger sounds awesome. Love to see it if you have photo some time.

    My novel is at redraft, polish, edit stage. Soon to go into “rest” stage while it goes for structural edit, I hope. I can feel how close it’s getting though.

    No cake baking this weekend. All focus on the novel, but taking it slow. It’s not going anywhere until it’s cooked. I think the time is not too far away now . I know because my head is starting to turn a little towards next project ideas.

    🙂 Chris

    April 16, 2011 at 2:54 pm
Angela Sunde" alt="Angela Sunde">

Angela Sunde

Gorgeous post, Chris. Loads of memories came flooding back for me too – A Wiggles Big Red Car cake, a Tweety Bird cake, a digger cake, a dump truck cake, a fairy castle cake, a Tigger cake.

April 23, 2011 at 9:04 pm

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