What The Great British Baking Show Taught Me About Writing

It All Begins with Preparation

One of the first things you notice about the show is that all the ingredients and the equipment the baker will need for the challenge is already there at their table. That prep work helps the contestants stay focused. No scrambling for cream or flour – it’s at their fingertips. Likewise as writers, we need to make sure we’ve got all the necessary tools before we begin a major project. For some, that means outlining the plot using a structure like The Hero’s Journey or Save The Cat beats. It may involve research, either interviewing experts or delving into historical records. It might be preparing your space or learning a new software program. Regardless, spending time at the beginning to make sure everything you need is in place helps build your confidence and removes obstacles that might later impede your progress.

Embrace your uniqueness

Each baker in the competition gets the same instructions but how they interpret it, particularly in the show-stopper challenge, makes all the difference. For example, in Season 9, Freya declared herself a vegan cook from the beginning, which appealed to younger viewers or those looking for healthier alternatives; Lizzie played up her strength at flavors while downplaying her lack of finesse, even making it a running gag. So, too, the fiction writer has a myriad of choices available to them and must learn to lean into their unique tone, voice, and perspective if they hope to stand out from the crowd.

Attention to Detail

Bakers have to pay close attention to measurements, temperatures, and timings to achieve the perfect bake. Even a detail like how long they leave a cake in the oven or how many minutes they “prove” a dough can make a huge difference. Adding too much of one ingredient or too little of another, and the result can be tasted in the end product. The parallels to writing are obvious. Yes, in those first drafts, we can invite our creativity out to play, but later we need to leave time to meticulously edit our work, paying close attention to the micro-issues of grammar, punctuation, consistency, and overall clarity.

Support your fellow creatives

Even though the baking show is ostensibly a competition, you wouldn’t know it from the positive comments, hugs, and words of encouragement flying around the tent. When someone wins the weekly “Star Baker” designation, their fellow bakers are the first to give them a thumbs up; they’re also the first to encourage them when they receive a less than favorable review. Likewise, writers need to embrace their interactions with other creatives through critique groups, associations like RMFW, in-person retreats, or summer writing festivals. Writing fiction is notoriously brutal on the ego and surrounding yourself with a caring community, one where you both support and take nourishment from other writers, is the key to survival.

Embrace Failure as a Learning Opportunity

I’ve noticed that those bakers who make it to the finals are often the ones who took the criticism they initially got from the judges and changed either their approach or their attitude accordingly. We all like to think what we say can make a difference and the judges of the baking competition are no exception. Seeing someone grow and evolve over time, particularly in response to some hint from you, is a heady feeling. It’s the same with writers—listen to your instructors, your mentors, others with more experience than you. Read craft books. Analyze books you love. Listen to reactions from other writers with an open mind and an open heart. You may not agree with what you hear but learn to consider a comment before rejecting it.

Sometimes It All Comes Down to the Work

There aren’t any shortcuts in baking. It’s practice, repetition, time management, experimentation, doing it again, learning from mistakes, tweaking the recipe, trying again. It’s not unusual for a baker to say, “I’ve made this recipe at home twelve times.” And I love it when the bakers admit what they’ve made isn’t good enough and start over. It shows perseverance, gumption, and a drive to excel that bodes well for any endeavor, including writing. The old adage is true — it’s still “butt in the chair” for hours at a time. Art is work. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. You need stamina, self-discipline, and the ability to meet deadlines. You have to keep writing, keep revising, keep tossing out the schlock and shooting for the poetry. Every day.

Bon appetit — and keep writing!

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