SNE: The Manuscript Recipe
A few notes on the creative process related to the manuscript for my next book, Super Natural Every Day.
I thought I'd take some time to write about Super Natural Every Day. The manuscript and photography are due this summer so why not wipe the spelt flour off my cheek, let the quinoa simmer on its own for a bit, and share a bit about how I'm working toward that not-so-far-off date?
I'll start by telling you about my creative process, which, in a broad sense, starts by collecting things that inspire me. I keep all sorts of scraps, notebooks, photos and random text files around. They live in drawers, on desktops, some are paper, others are digital. Thoughts and inspirations set aside for later, someday, next year. Occasionally, I'll cluster a few of these things together if there is some sort of connection that strikes me as interesting. If I'm really excited about something, that particular cluster might end up in an envelope or folder.
Many of the ideas, images, and thoughts related to this new book lived in a simple paper folder for a time. I'd add a copy of a recipe from one of my notebooks occasionally, or a photo of a place that evoked a certain feeling or sense of place. I might pull the folder down every few months, spread all the notes and elements across a table and think about what I was looking at. What could I add? What should be taken away?
There was a point when I thought it was time to get more serious. If I wanted to turn this into a cookbook what might it look like? Feel like? What would the themes be? How would it be structured? Which recipes? I started answering some of those questions and began to work on an outline.
My outlines usually start by organizing the book into sections, and then breaking those sections down into more detail (and recipes). As the project matures the outline turns into a 4-5 page road map/blueprint for the book. This document changes and evolves constantly based on what I feel is working and what isn't. But having a strong outline in place helps to let me know (at a glance) where I'm at in the overall process and where I'm headed. It's surprisingly easy to get lost.
I color code and mark up one version of my outline based on where I'm at. A plus mark following a recipe name means it is tested and has a head note. Two pluses means a photo is completed. A plus before the name means I've converted the recipe into international weights and measures. Highlighting the recipe name in green? That means it's in good shape and ready for some time in a kitchen other than my own.
Sorry, let me back up a bit. Around the time I've fleshed out an outline, I also set up a binder (see the first image). At this point it's pretty much a dummy book. I fill it with sheet protectors and section dividers. It helps me imagine the actual object I'm working on. It keeps me organized and enables me to actually see any progress I'm making. My outline corresponds with the pages in the binder, page by page. I assign one recipe per sheet protector, the most current version of the recipe is visible. If there is a photo to go with a recipe I have it in the same pocket visible through the back side. It makes it easy to move pages and recipes around, and keep track of versions of recipes (and related notes).
It would be disingenuous for me to tell you this process is all sunshine and flowers. Writing and photographing a book is hard for me. Aside from this (quite public) recipe journal, I'm a relatively private person. The book process takes me out of my comfort zone. Maybe because it's such a monumental effort to make it happen? So many people involved! It's just an entirely different world of expectations, with all hopes tied into a single grand gesture. I think to myself - I want this book to be good, I want it to find the slice of people who will find something special in it, I want it to find a home in welcoming kitchens. I want the recipes to work in your kitchens. And on and on and on. Just know, I spend a certain amount of time talking myself out of the trees.
So I'm here, chipping away at the book one word, one sentence, one head note, one photograph at a time. The binder is bulging, with only a few blank pages left to fill, but I suspect I'll be testing, tweaking, and revising down to the last minute...I know many of you would be amazing testers - I might need to enlist some of you for a bit of help, if you're game (more details on that in a future post)...
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So intriguing to read about your writing process Heidi. There's a lot to be said for your approach of keeping up the momentum by building in tasks 'ticked off' and having something that gives you a sense of what the finished book will be. Still loving that the cookbook will be for *every day*. These recipes are the gems, so much more than the ones that are trooped out for guests twice a year. No added pressure intended :-)
What a treat to hear about your bookmaking process. I'd love to be a tester. Your recipes are a constant (weekly!) inspiration in my kitchen and so many have become instant favorites!
WOW, what a big project - I'm inspired and excited to see the results!
I can't wait for your second book. I'm sure it is going to be amazing. I would also love to do some recipe testing.
Thank you for sharing this amazing adventure. Writing a cookbook is everything that I imagined, and you seem to have every ingredient for it! Your collections of ideas is truly amazing, and inspiring. I would love to do some recipe testing. I'm on my 3rd year of food blogging and I never get tired of new recipes, new ideas, or new flavors. Food is art. Art is life. :) Jenn
As someone who LOVES your recipes, they are staples in our house, I'd love to also join in and test recipes for your book.
Thank you for letting us share in your creative process - from thought to inspiration to the practicalities of outlines and checklists. It's amazing that you find time to post so frequently on this blog. I'd love to be a recipe tester.
I've been lurking this site for about two years now, but this is my first comment. I really adore the recipes you share, how they are ideas that can be taken many different directions. SNC is the golden child of my cook book collection, and this site along with your book has really transformed my diet. I have often thought, while making your recipes, how much I would love to share the outcome with you (but alas, I never made it to the comments). Recipe testing is right up my alley! I absolutely cannot wait.
Thanks for sharing your writing process. Can't wait to see your next cookbook. Would love to help test recipes.
I've always wondered how someone would go about writing a cookbook. Thanks for giving us a peek! I can't wait til it's in stores!
I can't wait to see your new book, Heidi. I picked up a copy of SNC when I was in the states a couple of months ago and it is already one of the most well used, dog-eared, sauce-splashed books in my collection. Thanks for sharing your passion with us. Very inspiring :)
I've just pushed a button on a blog post about how I want to improve my photography and here I am reading a few minutes later how someone is pushing themselves to achieve another goal. It's fired me up to get more organised, more deliberate and more determined to push myself out of my comfort zone. I wish you well with your cookbook - I love reading your blog and have been inspired so many times by your recipes. Look forward to helping you to test and experiment.
I love hearing and seeing the process. I'm so excited about the release of this new book; I bet it'll be grand! Need recipe testers? Yes please!
Recipe testing? You bet!
I enjoyed this post very much, and find it satisfying if not inspirational (even though I am not working on any type of book). Seeing the organization required and processes mapped out show why your cookbook(s) is/are so well-done. Thank you!
Thanks for this post. I appreciate the insight into your process. Your other book, and ones like it, are a beautiful part of my collection. I am mostly a photography book collector, but also cookbooks, and your book has a beautiful hand feel and look, between paper, texture, heft, recipes and pictures. It is a keeper in so many ways. Interestingly, I have two copies: one for recipes and one as a photography book. The book is not forgotten. The best books are those that act like, feel like books, that in themselves are works of art, but works of art at telling their story, not taking center stage. Can't wait for the new one!
I'm so in for testing
Best wishes on developing SNE. If I could put it on my Amazon wish list right now, I would. The dummy binder is just how we were taught to work through producing our dissertations in graduate school. It is an instant view of your progress. And it is hard to see progress and organization in the middle of a giant project. If you haven't read Ann Lamott's book Bird by Bird on writing, that may be helpful, too...or at least entertaining. Thanks for sharing your process with us, and thanks for all the great recipes each week.
As someone who has hopes of being a published cookbook author one day, this was very interesting and inspiring to read. Getting a glimpse at the process of an author is always a great way to learn and I really appreciate that you've taken the time to do this. As for looking for testers in the future, I would love to offer a hand. I know my blog is new to the world, but my cooking has been around almost as long as I have.
long-time foodie; first-time poster... if you still need particular testing, i'm in!
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